John Vanderslice on liberalism and recording to tape
Some artists seem to cultivate character from their surroundings, while others develop as a reaction to that upbringing. John Vanderslice falls easily within the latter category. Coming to the Crepe Place on Friday, Dec. 11, Vanderslice brings his low-key songwriting quirkiness to a town well known for its own idiosyncratic nature, as well as its liberal politics.
Nowadays, Vanderslice serves much the same role in San Francisco’s indie music scene as Dave Eggers does in its literary one—both nurture their creative circles while also contributing to them. However, growing up it probably would have been difficult to guess that Vanderslice would end up as a bleeding heart singer-songwriter operating out of the Bay Area.
Don’t get Rhan Wilson wrong, it’s not that he doesn’t enjoy the holiday season, he just wants to shed a different light on the whole gift-giving revelry. The producer and brainchild behind the annual Altared Christmas extravaganza takes your common Christmas carol and gives it a little, well, kick in its bloomer-wearing ass. Translating the music of old merry tunes into minor keys and conjuring more than 20 local stars, like Tammi Brown, Dale Ockerman and Patti Maxine, to gather on one stage as various characters, the lifelong guitarist presents a two-hour show each December that aims to rock a “Christmas that Grandma could never have imagined.” There’s plenty of irony and improv throughout a set that ranges from somber duets, heavenly gospel and, of course, brash rock comedy (think “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Clause” sung by an elderly woman).
Hip hop offers an escape for Blackalicious frontman Gift of Gab
It may be that Tim Parker needs less oxygen than an average human being. Parker, better known as Gift of Gab, often raps for what seems like an eternity without taking a breath. The vocal identity of Bay Area hip hop duo Blackalicious, Gift of Gab is recognized for his lightning-fast lyrical constructions and tongue twisting rhymes.
“I like to be an instrument of the beat,” Parker explains of his rapid-fire raps. “Different beats call for different cadences.” Indeed, the MC doesn’t always rap fast, and Parker denies that he possesses some kind of super-human lung capacity. “I’ve had (breath-holding) contests with other people; some of ’em I win, some of ’em I don’t.”
Singer Amanda West is hiding out. Sort of. Having just returned from the Folk Alliance convention, the songstress (and producer of August’s WomanSong all-female concert in Big Sur) is busy off stage compiling the 12 tracks to her sophomore release. “I’ve actually been trying not to book shows because I’m working on a new album,” she says, making this week’s Cayuga Vault show on Saturday, Dec. 5 (alongside world-folk duo HuDost) all the more tantalizing for fans of her deeply cathartic folk. A special winter show, the concert will likely be her last for a while as she heads into the studio to lay down a record she describes as happier than 2008’s The Way to the Water. It will reflect what she says are her more recent experiences “connecting with the Universe and finding confidence.” “The images around the new CD are persimmon fruits,” she reveals. “It’s related to one of the songs on the album that’s become a symbol of inner knowing, strength and self empowerment.”
Dragon Smoke’s Moore and Mercurio’s punk pasts
As the rhythm section of the powerhouse New Orleans funk-jazz jam band Galactic and its soulful spin-off group Dragon Smoke, bassist Robert Mercurio and drummer Stanton Moore are known for laying down the kind of grooves that could start a dance party in an emergency ward. Who’d have guessed that both musicians grew up not on the friendly sass of funk music, but on the raw hostility of punk rock?
Moore, who surprised some members of the funk community a few years ago by recording with the hardcore band Corrosion of Conformity, admits to having listened to his fair share of GBH and Minor Threat records as a teenager in Metairie, Louisiana. At age 16 or 17, however, he began to explore jazz music as a means of becoming a better rock drummer. From jazz, it was a quick jump to funk. “To me, [funk] was kind of in between the rock thing and the jazz thing,” he explains.
For Po’ Girl, home is where the harmony is
Speaking from a gas station in Canada on her band’s way to Vancouver, singer Allison Russell shares her admiration for one B.B. King—because of his admiration for the road.
“B.B.’s an example of a true performer who loves his audience and what he does,” she begins. “He says, ‘Nobody pays me to play, they just pay me to travel.’ I think that’s how we feel about what we do as well.”
Referencing her three bandmates in Po’ Girl, the founding member of the 6-year-old Canadian urban roots ensemble admits that although they love being a crew of troubadours, they are now “consciously attempting to have a little balance.” That “balance” has translated into two new CD releases this summer (Deer in the Night and Po’ Girl Live) and a change from 300 shows last year to just over 250 this year—that’s not exactly the most relaxing schedule.
When one door closes, another door opens. Singer Matthew Chaney can attest to that. Dropping out of school to take a hiatus from his studies as an environmental science major, the singer-songwriter dove into the music scene a year ago armed with plenty of folk songs, equally infectious as affecting, and a crew of friends to fill out his rising acoustic ensemble, Tether Horse. “The idea of dropping out of school links in with the name of the band,” Chaney explains. “It’s that whole idea of being tethered to our society’s idea of the right direction to go and that if you want to be successful you have to follow these set of rules. I wanted to do something apart from that.” At a crossroads and confronting new opportunities, the 24-year-old says he had “a bit of a freak out moment” before choosing the right-brained path to close the books and hit the stage.
The Cayuga Vault celebrates a decade of banking on originality
Listening to Linda Kimball and Pete Coates tell stories about their 10 years helming the Cayuga Vault, you can expect to do more than a few double takes.
The history of the eclectic music venue has been quite a tale from the start, and the pair’s passion for the grassroots venture that Coates labels “a calling” is obvious. So is their rapport with another. Romantic partners during the first four years of the Vault, the two remain extremely close as friends and business partners to this day. “Not many people can say they could overcome that!” Coates jokes, noting their multi-faceted relationship and the changes it went through in the Vault’s beginnings.
Loch Lomond emerged out of unexpected places
Ritchie Young didn’t get out much over the summer between his junior and senior years in high school. He was grounded. Young’s father put the rambunctious adolescent on house arrest after he hospitalized a friend—a nail-gun fight gone awry, Young explains with a chuckle.
The singer songwriter of the Portland-based, chamber pop ensemble Loch Lomond can laugh about it now. His friend has long since recovered and they still talk to this day. He recalls how stir-craziness drove him to the attic of his central Oregon home that summer. It was there that he was met with two very distinct instruments: his father’s old rifle and a guitar.
If you prefer to sit back and let a jazz set gently simmer in the background, beware of Future Dog; the band is out to change your mind and musically kick the seat right out from under you. Calling themselves “ambassadors of the neo-speakeasy,” the three gents are unconventional members of the growing jazz-funk trio revival that’s been coming out of the Santa Cruz woodworks lately. Why unconventional? Somehow electronica and rap influences have made their way into the band’s set. And, ironically, founder/bassist Brett Wiltshire says it’s all to get back to jazz’s earliest days. “Jazz originated in the party scene of a smoky speakeasy with dancing but it’s progressed into a genre where people sip wine and clap in between songs,” he says.
Milton Nascimento speaks the universal language no matter what may be against him
Here in modern-day America, the music censors deal with controversial lyrical content by slapping warning labels on albums and/or axing swear words from the radio versions of songs. One memorable example of this came early this year, when U.S. radio stations made Britney Spears change the title of her single “If U Seek Amy” (which, not so coincidentally, sounds an awful lot like “F-U-C-K me” when sung) to the less inflammatory “If U See Amy.”