Friday, April 29, 2011

Q & A with Alex Nackman (Part 2)

If you haven't had a chance to check out Part 1 of this interview check it out below. The final part I asked Alex to give me some idea about each song on his new record. Sorry it's taken so long to post!

EZ: Give me an idea of what inspired you lyrically and melodically for each track in as few or many words as you'd like.

AN: Ok, here it goes.

Bodies Won't Stand - a play on the adage "actions speak louder than words." I've always felt that words speak pretty loudly and often times, those words we say to people stick around after our physical parts go away--after we die, all we have are the words of love, hate, support, anger, happiness, etc. So, we should remember the words we say to the people in our lives and not focus on actions.

Warning - I think we tend to focus too much on the difficulties we're experiencing today, but not thinking about what good things might happen tomorrow. "Warning" was a track that was born out of a sense of wanting to maintain perspective in life.

Holding Her - I tend to keep things too far past their expiration date. Sometimes in relationships, we have a hard time admitting when things just aren't right and that "working it out" just won't work. We try to hold on and tell ourselves that things will be better if we just wait it out, when in reality, we should admit when it's time to let go. I used the metaphor of a hospital to convey that feeling of trying to keep it going too long.

Burn From The Rockets - In any relationship, there's a learning curve and a time period where we don't fully understand someone. We need to read the proverbial instruction manual of who we're with. "Burn From The Rockets" was a plea to not give up on a relationship solely because of a lack of knowledge. Eventually, we learn how to fly, but it takes practice.

N.Y. - NY is a track about the struggle to find solace in New York. I know the City so well and I've been in it my whole life. Yet, as most New Yorkers can vouch for, the City has the tendency to really challenge you whether it be financially, emotionally, mentally, and logistically. It's a love affair that is a constant struggle and I'm sort of asking and pleading with my own home to release some of the grip I feel it has on me at times.

Walk It Blind - Not relying on transient replaceable things. This track was sort of influenced by the economic crisis in 2008, but I don't tend to really write hard about political topics. I was just trying to convey a sense of over-indulgence and what can come of it. In the end, we have our friends, our family, our lovers, our wives, our husbands-- those are the most important elements of what keep us going.

Our Own Separate Lives - I was in a moment of not finding real love, but rather just enjoying the spoils. I used the Cinderella story as a sub-metaphor on this track because I was trying different shoes on but couldn't get any shoe to fit in finding love. There's some risqué subtext there...I'll let you piece together the rest.

Closer - It was after a trip to Israel that I had truly realized how much someone meant to me. I think we had been seeing each other so much before I left that our love was super-saturated. In a lot of ways, it takes a 6,000 mile trip to look back and say, "I really wish she were here with me."

Aloud - This track was influenced really by a feeling of persistence and a determination to press on. It's cliché in some ways, but I've always maintained a sense of "pressing on" as a musician. I think we get told "no" in our lives all too often and still need to feel like we have a chance to hear "yes." The chorus talks about shouting "aloud" and not letting our voices be drowned by those who keep saying "no." We hear "no, you didn't get that job" or "no you didn't get into that college" or "no I don't love you." So many people work so hard, yet are rarely rewarded. Today, we see many more greed and short-term gains rewarded in our society, more so than those the middle and those who've really sweated it out.

Skipping Steps - wanting to jump ahead to know someone. In a new relationship, I think we all have a sense of wanting to read the final chapter before we're there, especially when you get to a certain age. I'm not saying that I consider myself old or in any rush, but we all are getting older and thus we all have fewer and fewer chances to see if a relationship will work as years go on.

Last Night In Kyoto - I wrote this in Japan after a very short trip through Kyoto-- a beautiful city that I never quite felt I got enough time in. The feeling of leaving a place too soon was a metaphor for breaking a relationship before it had time to mature. In some ways, it was an admission that I didn't follow my own advice in "Burn From The Rockets." "Last Night In Kyoto" takes place in Japan, but it's really about relationships in general and giving them a chance. I questioned whether I made a mistake in the past because I didn't quite let myself get to know her enough.

Stay Awake - After being hurt by someone, we all get a little gun-shy. I felt that way with a new person in my life and felt that I unfairly was being standoffish and reserved while she was actually giving me more love than I had ever experienced before. I held back love and affection for her to a detriment, which was terribly unfair for her. The song really pulls at the feeling of "staying awake" and being aware and cognizant of what you're doing to someone. Sometimes, we hurt people without saying anything at all. It's the silence we harbor that is often louder than the words we actually verbalize.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Q&A with Alex Nackman (PART 1)

Having reviewed Alex Nackman's newest CD a number of weeks ago I wanted to dive in a bit further. Thankfully Alex was nice enough to have a little e-mail Q&A session. Here's what transpired.

EZ: Your sound has evolved over the years, personally I hear a lot of U2, early Coldplay, and even Radiohead in this new album that makes it so unique from previous work. What were your actual influences this go ‘round and what were you striving for?

AN: My influences have always been drawn from a lot of British and European bands. I've always been attracted to the tension in much of that sound. It's a combination of dramatically pensive, slightly melancholy tones. I had started to really get into British New Wave and bands from the mid-late 80's. New Order, Duran Duran, Joy Division, early U2 were all influential. On the contemporary side, I've always been fond of the band Doves, a band from Manchester, UK. I think all of those bands are slightly infused in the new record.

EZ: I've been listening to your music for 5+ years now and can hear the maturity and sometimes large leaps you've taken from record to record; how would you describe the evolution of your sound over that period of time?

AN: It's hard for me to describe my own evolution because it tends to be better observed by an outsider. However, I can say that I began this pursuit much more in the singer/songwriter vein just as John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Howie Day were gaining large-scale popularity around 2002, but things certainly have taken a more serious and more cinematic turn as the years have progressed. I've gone more electric and have experimented with more electronica, which has shifted my sound more towards alternative. However, things have a way becoming cyclical. I wouldn't be surprised if my motivations start edging back towards acoustic styles or folk influences. Iron & Wine and Mark Kozelek are still two of my favorite acoustic artists and I'm constantly influenced by who I'm listening to.

EZ: In that regard, it seems you got heavy into the drum machines and electronic fx, how did that start? Clear picture or just noodling?

AN: In the early demos, it was more noodling, but these songs have really had a good year to sit and marinate. So, by the time I entered my studio with fixed melodies and lyrics, my ideas for the drums, percussion, and electronic programming were pretty fixed. That being said, there is always an element of improv in the studio. I may hit a wrong key or a wrong note that actually sounds cooler than my intended note. The "mistake" ends up being the keeper.

EZ: Kind of in the same thought bubble...who came up with some of the drum loops and percussion rhythms?

AN: I actually wrote everything, but I also had a fair amount of natural acoustic drums on the record as well. It's mixed between the electronic sound for a blend that lies somewhere in between. I played some drums myself (first-time ever!) and my good friend Justin King, a great musician from Oregon, also performed some drums on the new record.

EZ: Yes, I've met Justin when he opened for you way back when. Very talented guy. Switching gears, Where would you say you are in your career?

AN: I'm not quite sure. I'm happy, I can say that much. I'm content with my music. I think we all would love to be one step ahead of where we are. I've got a new record that feels right. It feels organic. It feels hand-made, which gives me a lot of satisfaction. I'm focused more on getting the music into the hands of listeners, and less on "industry-stuff." But, there are always ups and downs and I've learned to keep a thick skin in this pursuit. I know whatever great things are happening today, might not be so great tomorrow, and vice versa. So, I push ahead.

EZ: Absolutely. What are your goals for 2011?

AN: I think my goals are really to keep my following, increase listeners who "get" what I do, and really hone in on grassroots promotion. I've been much more pro-active in my street team. I want people to hear the record and say, "I know what he means." I want people to see me as honest and sincere.

EZ: What about touring plans?

AN: Working on touring plans. Right now, I've got some scattered dates planned in the northeast, west coast, and the UK. Still working on things at this point.

EZ: I know you took a bit more time between records this time around; explain the process of making this record. (I know it’s probably a long answer)

AN: I sort of touched on this in a previous answer but I began this record 2 years ago. Some of these songs have been sitting and developing for a long time. I decided to really make sure these songs had long-term strength. I wanted to still like them in 6 months, 8 months, 10 months, etc. I ended up with 30 new songs in contention for the album, but I gave them all 6 months or more before I began to record them for real. By the time I sat down to really get the final tracks, the songs had definitely changed from where they had begun when I first wrote them. In addition, I still really liked the songs. That litmus test made me feel good about what I was doing and gave me a bit more assurance that the music had at least the potential to stick around for awhile with listeners. I didn't want to make an ephemeral record. I always think the song I wrote today is the best song in the world. Then, I listen to it tomorrow and I think it's just ok. I didn't want that with this record. Once I had the music developed, I sat in my home studio in Brooklyn and literally played every single part. I did fly to Oregon to work with Justin King for a week, but 85% of the record was recorded in Brooklyn. The remainder was worked on in a cabin up in New Hampshire. I locked myself way for 10 days with a roaring fire, a snowstorm, a case of red wine, and all my recording gear. It was one of the most rewarding weeks I've experienced. I recorded 4 songs and felt like I had cleared my head. The record was finished by October of 2010.

Check out Part 2 of the Q&A for a detailed rundown of the songs on This Revolution

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alex Nackman - This Revolution

Well, more than two years have passed since Alex Nackman released a new album. A pretty standard amount of time, but longer than normal from Alex’s normal mode of writing and releasing music on an almost annual basis. I’m a firm believer that a band should only put out a new album every 2-3 years. Yet, I realize this is a lot to ask for in our current music climate where songs/albums are listened to, digested, and discarded almost instantaneously. However, the time it takes to craft a good song can often take months in the making. Rushing things is rarely a good course of action. None of these songs sound rushed. In fact, they all seem well marinated.

Sonically, This Revolution isn't your typical Alex Nackman album either. Yeah, the catchy melodies are intact, but the songs have more depth and linger with you after the CD has stopped spinning (yes they still print CDs). If you're expecting the acoustic singer-songwriter songs of yesteryear (a la John Mayer, et al.) you'll just have to wait till the very end of the record to hear anything that resembles that previous song styling. No, what we have here is the "Alex Nackman Goes Elect(ronic)" record. Thankfully no one yells "Judas!" in between any tracks. But, you know this is going to be a different record when a rising wall of electric guitar distortion hits you immediately on the first track "Bodies Won't Stand". Oh yes. Let the rocking commence. Through various electric guitar FX, drum machines, and synths Alex channels U2, early Coldplay, and even a little Radiohead (to my ears at least).

The album as a whole is also more cohesive than previous efforts. While others weren’t disjointed per se, this one just feels tracked and paced exceptionally well. Moving from one song to the next seems like a natural progression. There aren’t any lulls that make you want to hit >>| or jolts that seem to come out of nowhere. In addition, there are a fair number of songs that immediately pull you in with either a really great drum groove, an interesting repeated melody line, or a combination of both. The rhythm section on this album, more than on any previous records, is really tight and locked into the heart of these songs. This Revolution turns out to be an appropriate title for it seems Alex has taken a great step forward with a significant transformation of his own.

Time for full disclosure: I’ve been lucky enough to call Alex a friend for almost 5 years now. During that period, I’ve seen him live a couple times (Here and Here) while I lived in L.A. and listened to pretty much everything he’s ever recorded and released. I’ve had a sneak peak at a few of these songs in the years prior, either at a show (“That song hasn’t been recorded yet!” see YouTube link below) or via email (“Nice…a rough cut…very cool”). “Holding Her” was sent to me via email almost 2 years ago. It included something I hadn’t previously heard in Alex’s music: an electronic/synth melody line. As I recall, I was pretty critical of the song in my reply to Alex. It sounded out of place, and not what I had come to know as his signature sound. If I had only known where he was headed, I would have kept my mouth shut and been more encouraging towards him to “explore the space” per se. But, I did think he had the makings of a great song on his hands.

Some of my favorite tracks are as follows. "N.Y." (Radiohead-ish electronic beat), "Aloud" (U2-ish quickly repeated echoey guitar line with soaring chorus), and "Last Night In Kyoto" (another great chorus surround by a catchy as hell melody). But, to be honest this album doesn't really have any clunkers. I know that many of these songs were in the works for well over two years and there is a whole album's worth of material that didn't make it onto this disc (maybe to be continued as: Le coup d'état ?). Seriously, this is Alex's best work to date. Period. His growth as a songwriter and maturity are on full display. Not only that, you can hear that he's taking chances and branching out into directions that he hasn't previously. I implore you to listen to his music and support all his extremely hard work crafting great music.

Alex Nackman - "Aloud" (Troubadour. West Hollywood 3/28/2008)

Monday, November 15, 2010

KanYe - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

How do you write a review for an album that hasn't been officially
released and has already been reviewed by anyone and everyone-two-three? The praise being heaped upon Kanye West's newest album endangers inflating his massive ego to astronomical proportions...that is, if it wasn't already on that level.

My personal affection for 'Ye/Yeezy/Kanye/et al. runs all the way back to circa 2005 in between College Dropout and Late Registration. In fact, I even reviewed Graduation waaaay back in 2007. Before all of his public relations nightmares. Before the slight detour with 808's and Heartbreak (pretty sure I'm in the 2% of people that actually enjoyed that album). Before the most entertaining Twitter feed ever created.

Look, I understand if you don't like the guy as a person, mainly because he's said and done some stupid, stupid stuff. But, he's never been put in jail for carrying around a cache of weapons or drugs or dead hookers. It's the fact that it seems like the guy has no inner-monologue, no filter for his thoughts that makes you despise him. And he's a ratings/media goldmine; people love controversy, and there aren't many artists that have the name recognition or global reach as Kanye does. No matter what he's saying or doing.

With all that being said, the guy produces great track after great track. If he didn't have any talent he would have been a has-been five years ago. In addition, there aren't more than five or so
artists in a any genre that I still go to Best Buy to buy the physical CD. Does he need the money at this point? Hellz no. But every track you can literally hear how much time and effort went into crafting the song. The beats, the samples, the strings, the lyrics, the arrangements. All of it while pushing the boundaries that he has helped create. Just when you think you've heard him at his limit, he goes in a different direction to the Nth degree. He's actually an artist, (I know people throw the word around and think it's even weirder to call a hip-hop MC/producer one) just think about it. You may not like the music, but he's taking risks, being creative, trying new things, taking old things and making the seem new. The musical world is his grab-bag of ideas. And the way
he can pull out seemingly disparate musical ideas and put them together without sounding gimmicky is truly unique.

One of the best examples of this is the second to last track called
"Lost In The World". It begins with an identical sample of Bon Iver's "Woods". Which, if you're not familiar was on Bon Iver's Blood Bank - EP (2009) and begins with him (Justin Vernon) singing solo with the help of auto tune. Kanye let's the tape roll for about the first ~50 seconds without any alterations. Then the auto tune bends a little more and cuts off, and there's this great moment of tension where you know something is going to happen and then this propulsive techno-dance beat drops in and
kicks you in the face to make your head nod for the next 3+ minutes. It's similar to Kanye pairing with Chris Martin, but even more random because Bon Iver is by no means a household name when compared to Coldplay.

Kanye is truly an artist who you want desperately to separate from his public persona but it's impossible. His persona is part of what helps him make such awesome music. It's also what adds fuel to the fire. Just be thankful that you get to listen to the music at all, and hopeful that he pulls out something even cooler than his performances on SNL ("Power" and "Runaway") and the VMA's for the next Grammy's in February.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The National - High Violet

Well, this is the one everyone has been waiting for (especially the NYT). But if you're expecting The Boxer, Part II you may be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure The National's new album could have just as easily been titled: "Where did we go from there?" Which is basically the question to be asked after the huge success of The Boxer 3+ years ago. Upon finishing the previous album you were not only left wanting more, but thinking, "What do you do when you reach the top of the [artistic] mountain?" and the inevitable answer is you come back down. How fast that decent occurs varies drastically from one artist to another.

For The National it's thankfully at a slower pace but the momentum is unfortunately downward. High Violet is truly a tale of a two-sided album, where the second side/half is more enjoyable than the first. There are fewer instantly memorable songs on this album. Maybe it's meant to grow on you after all the time and meticulous attention to detail that went into the album. Either way, the album is an achievement that could have seen the band go in a totally opposite direction or become completely complacent. Thankfully they didn't. Maybe this album will continue to grow on me.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights - Pardon Me

Dear Rock 'n Roll,

Occasionally I think you've been murdered. Not literally, but maybe your core ideals have changed too much over the last 30+ years to the point you're unrecognizable. The shirtless guys with long hair, too-tight jeans, et al. now look like posers trying to recreate a time before they were even born. Juicy guitar riffs are such a rarity, that when I hear a good one (let alone a few on one album) I have to play the track back just to confirm that I heard it correctly. Maybe you're just in hibernation. Maybe you're saving yourself for those more "worthy". Maybe I'm living in the wrong decade. In any case, thank you for bestowing some of your goodness on Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. Their new album Pardon Me is a pretty great rock record, filled with blues-tinged rock as well as some slow-burning jams. Some tracks may be weaker than others, but the really great ones make up for any shortcomings.

Don't be a stranger.


P.S. Just listen to how this song "Bright Energy" builds. Can't you imagine this as a set-opener? The lights are basically off and they start playing this kinda noodling-dreamy refrain, it builds slowly as the bass drum goes from pounding out 1-2-3-4 to hear the guitars sustain and fade and then the {CRACK} of two sticks hitting the snare, the lights come up and this monster riff starts. And let the show begin.

Bright Energy:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore - Dear Companion

What do you get when two singer-songwriters team up? What about when one of them performs with a cello instead of a guitar? Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore may seem to only be related by the fact they're two of the more celebrated young indie folk artists in the last few years, but they're both from Kentucky and love mountains. Literally.
Written in remonstration of the heinous form of surface mining known as mountaintop removal, Sollee explains in the liner notes how this type of coal mining is devastating the mountains and woodland areas that he grew up loving. His eagerness to do something about the situation led him to contact Moore and record Dear Companion; all of the proceeds benefit

Not only is the record socially conscious, it happens to bring together two exceptional talents that may not have otherwise worked together for more than a one-ff single or something. Sollee was named one of NPR's Top 10 Great Unknown Artists in 2007, and Moore basically holds one of the few winning lottery tickets of musicians that have submitted an unsolicited demo tape to a major (Sub-Pop) label and be called in to sign a record contract. The songwriting duties alternate from track to track and aren't without weak spots, but it's also about more than just mountains. Unfortunately, this album may be like the mountains they love; only enjoyed by those that take the time to stop, admire, and breathe in the fresh air.