The brand new album from The Shins, Port Of Morrow, is their first since 2006′s Wincing The Night Away. Frontman James Mercer kept busy in the interim, teaming up with super-producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse on the Broken Bells project. So, the first thing we asked James when we caught up with him over the weekend at the 2012 SXSW Music Festival was what made him feel that the time was right to revisit The Shins?
“During the Broken Bells project, everything that I did creatively, I did on the spot with Brian [Burton, aka Danger Mouse],” he explained. “Since I made that conscious decision that I wouldn’t be bringing ideas I made up at home into the studio, all of the stuff that I came up with on my own went to The Shins. I just had a build-up of ideas for songs, and parts, and choruses and verses.”
Well, judging by the reaction to the new material —the band just graced the stage of Saturday Night Live a few Saturdays ago—he picked a perfect time to rededicate himself to this particular creative outlet of his. Port Of Morrow, which comes out tomorrow, is not only the name of the album and a song on the record, but also a real-life industrial port in Oregon. “[Port Of Morrow] is so poetic sounding, it sounds like something out of Shakespeare to me,” Mercer revealed. “I thought about it like this departure point that you would leave, but I also thought about the river Styx. So, it came to symbolize death, I guess? [Laughs] Maybe I shouldn’t have called the record ‘Death.’”
Fun.‘s sophomore LP, Some Nights, just came out to strong reviews and even stronger sales, buoyed by the phenomenal success of the album’s first single, “We Are Young” (which recently hit #1 on the Billboard charts). The song’s subject matter is a bit mysterious in nature, so when we caught up with the three gents who make up the band in Austin during the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, the very first thing we asked them was to clear up the debate surrounding the meaning of the song’s line, “I know I gave it to you months ago.”
“[It's about] The Clap,” Fun. lead singer Nate Ruess deadpanned when we asked him. Admittedly, our jaws instantly hit the floor, but then the guys started laughing. “It’s not literal, having written it,” Nate confessed. “The whole song, also isn’t necessarily about something specific. I think it’s taking insecurities and nights out and combining them into one night. It’s not literal.” PHEW.
There was great music, great food, and great times to be had at the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival. However, it’s important to note that as hard as people partied while they were taking in the sights and sounds in Austin, there was one particular activity over the weekend that raised tons of money for a cause near and dear to our hearts. On Saturday night, Perez Hilton teamed up with the VH1 Save The Music Foundation for his annual One Night In Austin party (which featured performances by B.o.B., Ed Sheeran, Timbaland and more!). For the first time ever, Perez sold tickets to his SXSW mainstay and graciously donated all of the proceeds —over $46,000!— to VH1 Save The Music. That’s more than enough to restore an instrumental music program at a middle school or high school!
Even if you weren’t able to make it down to Austin this year, you can still help this very good cause. Simply follow VH1 on Foursquare, check into a music venue ANYWHERE across the country, and you’ll receive your own personal Save The Music badge. Then, on your behalf, VH1 will donate $1 to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. It’s that easy! Read more…
You’re forgiven if you haven’t yet heard of Alabama Shakes. After all, they don’t have a song on the radio, they haven’t made any music videos, and they don’t even have an album in stores for you to buy (yet). However, what they do have is a TON of internet buzz, as their soulful, southern roots rock sound has propelled them from the club circuit in the deep South into a place where they’re on the verge of entering the national consciousness. “Did you see Alabama Shakes yet?,” is a question that’s on everyone’s lips in Austin this week for the 2012 SXSW Music Festival, and we were lucky enough to be able to snag some time to sit down with Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard and drummer Steve Johnson the other afternoon.
When people reminisce about the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, there will be two things that stand out above the rest: Bruce Springsteen‘s epic keynote speech/concert, and last night’s Shady 2.0 Showcase, headlined by 50 Cent. Sadly, we weren’t able to attend the former, but we did manage to score a highly coveted ticket to the latter. Fiddy and the whole Shady Records family were celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the release of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ last night, even though the record won’t officially turn 10 until February of next year. Whatever the Shady squad lacks in calendar savvy, they MORE than make up for with their ability to throw a massive party.
Austin had been buzzing all day with rumors that the head honcho of Shady Records, Eminem, would show up to support his protégé 50 Cent as he performed his landmark, six-times platinum debut LP front-to-back. The rumors proved to be true, as Eminem made an unannounced appearance at the Austin Music Hall during “Patiently Waiting,” the second song on Get Rich and the second song to be played last night. The audience had already gone bonkers when Fitty emerged from the shadows —wearing a camouflage bullet proof vest, natch— just a few minutes earlier, but when Em hit the stage ensconced in a grey hoodie, we honestly thought the roof might come off the place. As the two traded verses while the classic Eminem-produced beat pulsated through the speakers, the energy level in the building was truly something to behold.
Rock stars are not exactly known for their punctuality. So imagine our surprise when Tom Chaplin and Jesse Quin of Keane showed up at the Moonshine Cafe in Austin yesterday a full 20 minutes ahead of their scheduled arrival time yesterday morning. They were both bright-eyed and bushytailed and anxious to discuss their upcoming LP, Strangeland, which will be out in May.
Keane made a huge splash in both their native England and the United States back in 2004 with their debut LP, Hopes And Fears, which went platinum here Stateside and moved almost 3 million units across the pond. The band has continued to have success in the intervening years, but with Strangeland, they’re looking to recapture the success they had with American audiences in the middle portion of the last decade. “It’s a record that should do really well in America,” Tom theorized with us. We asked him to elaborate, and he obliged.
“It’s kind of widescreen, that’s the way we thought about when we playing it back to ourselves. The first single, ‘Silenced By The Night,’ has kind of got flavors of Bruce Springsteen and a sort of big, epic American sound.”
“It’s direct, as well,” Jesse chipped in. “Americans like directness, they don’t like bullsh*t, do they?”
Speaking for us, as a nation, we think not! Before we let the guys leave, we gave them a gentle ribbing about the fact that their band’s name is on every single hotel key here at the Hilton this weekend. “Do you think this will get me into Bruce Springsteen’s hotel room?”, Tom jested. To find out what Tom would do (and what Jesse thinks he should be wearing) if they did, in fact, gain access to the luxury suite of The Boss, watch our video below!
Diane Birch‘s 2009 album, Bible Belt, was one of the most promising debut LPs to emerge in the last five years. Her voice and songwriting style eschews the kind of tawdry, disposable fluff that tends to get traction on Top 40 radio, and instead hearkens back to the confessional singer-songwriter style of legends like Carole King and Laura Nyro. Aside from her 2010 digital-only cover album The Velveteen Age, she’s been holed up in the studio for the last few years working on her sophomore record. So when we heard that she would be road testing songs from her forthcoming LP (due out summer-ish) at an intimate showcase show during Day Three of the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, we dropped our previous plans and made our way over to the Intercontinental Hotel.
It turned out to be an awesome decision.
Birch played seven songs in her roughly 40 minute set, all of which were new to our ears. Whereas her work on Bible Belt alternated between torch songs and jaunty melodies, her new material was considerably more layered and widescreen in its sound. Take her first single, “Speak A Little Louder” (which premiered on Idolator yesterday), for example: She layers reverbed vocals over a bed of warm, atmospheric synths, creating a mood that we saw RCRD Label describe perfectly as “vintage chill.” Over the last few years, she seems to have spent considerable time and effort honing her songwriting craft, particularly when it comes to penning choruses that instantly get stuck in your brain. Birch even proved capable of writing anthemic melodies; the last song of her set last night contained a refrain that promised “We’re superstars tonight.” Considering the way the crowd reacted to her set, that line is certainly prophetic of Birch’s future in 2012.
During that time, she told us a little bit about her new record (“Benny Blanco produced pretty much the whole album, I did some with Darkchild and Greg Kurstin, and I have a great song (‘Gold’) that’s one of the singles that I wrote with Bruno Mars“) and what factors play in her decision to perform her new single, “Love U Betta,” in its radio-friendly form or it’s raunchier, unedited style. “Usually it’s not my decision,” Neon explained. “Usually someone is going, ‘You have to keep this clean, Neon, or there’s gonna be trouble.’ And I’m like, ‘Okayyyyyy!’” She also spent some time wandering the streets of Austin with our ace photographer, Jen Marigliano, for this very special SXSW edition of Music Seen.
DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid, is a man of many talents: World class DJ, multimedia artist, writer, and technology entrepreneur. Now you can add Music Supervisor to that list, too, as Paul D. Miller (his real name) is currently hard at work putting together the score for the upcoming VH1 Rock Docs documentary film, Downloaded. We got a chance to speak to him just before midnight last night at a party celebrating the film’s upcoming release, which was also attended by the likes of Ed Sheeran (check out our interview with him!), comedian Reggie Watts, actor/director Alex Winter, multi-gazillionaire investor Sean Parker, and more. We asked him about his thoughts on Napster, what he thinks of the explosion of popularity of DJs here in America, and much more.
VH1: You’re working on putting together the score for the film Downloaded. What was it that drew you to this project?
DJ Spooky: Alex [Winter] is somebody who digs in the crates. He’s always checking out different styles. He got in touch and told me how he had a lot of my music at different times in my career. We just got along. We did a quick interview/discussion, and it just seemed like there was good energy, good dynamics, but above all, a good flow of information.
Were you a Napster user back in the day? Being a recording artist and an avid digger, I can only imagine that your relationship to such a controversial product must have been complicated.
Most of the stuff that I was really interested in was the idea of the “archive” and the “exchange.” And when I say “exchange,” I mean this networked system that somehow enabled so many people to really begin to understand how deep the networks were. Napster, to me, was one of those seminal moments where the extreme volume of information that everyone has about music was able to come alive.
Napster is no longer a living, breathing product, but thanks to some breakthroughs in both technology and record label innovation, streaming services like Spotify now exist. As an artist, what’s your view on streaming versus physical media?
As an avid record collector, the thing that comes to mind is scarcity. Records have made a comeback and have become collector’s items. Vinyl versus digital files? To me, the greatest selling album all time is the blank CD. You can put anything you want on it, but vinyl had this artwork, all sorts of beautiful graphic design, things that are difficult to replicate in digital files. Actually, I believe apps have taken over the role of diminishing vinyl in the culture.
Now, that’s not to slag on Adele or anything that she’s accomplished, but Fiona Apple’s music has never been the kind of easy listening fare that you can throw on the stereo on Sunday morning while you’re making breakfast. The origins of Fiona’s music emanate from a raw, primal place deep within her soul, and when she delivers her work on stage, it’s as if she’s attempting to physically expel all of the physical and mental suffering that she’s experienced: Her body writhes and contorts as she’s singing, her hands tugging at her clothing in an almost unconscious fashion, almost as if she’s possessed. She projects the state of her psyche, past and present, in every song that she sings in such a pure, unfiltered fashion that is impossible to take your eyes off her.
She took the stage at Stubb’s for last night’s NPR Showcase just a few minutes before 8:00 p.m. and launched into “Fast As You Can,” her first single from her 1999 masterwork When The Pawn…. Most performers take a song or two to get into the groove, but Fiona came out of the gate swinging, delivering the song in a raspy fashion that Jules Winfield would describe as “great vengeance and FURIOUS anger.” She then proceeded to growl her way through “You’re All I Need” “On The Bound” before breaking everyone’s heart with an emotive version of “Paper Bag”, in which she confesses “I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up.”