Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dial P
for Pussy
Part Two

Click here
for part one

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Combining garage rock rhythms with bursts of noise,
New York's own Pussy Galore were taking no musical
prisoners–from song titles to album titles to damag-
ed song structures, they were all about attitude.
-- I Heart Noise

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"Why," I asked Jon about Pussy Galore's latest release, "if the full
title is Dial 'M' for Motherfucker, does it read Dial 'M' on the cov-
ers and spines of all three configurations? What's up with that?"

Apparently, this wasn't censorship in action on the part of Car-
oline, their record label, or some other party, as I suspected, but
something the group planned so that "Tower would stock it."

For the free-speech adher-
ents out there: the word does
appear on the LP and CD la-
bels and is only missing from
the cassette version due to
a duplication error.

While I understand Jon's
concern regarding sales, I've always regarded Pussy Galore
as one of the least compromising rock acts around. I mean, this
is the same crew who titled a 1987 collection Groovy Hate Fuck
and an '88 EP Sugarshit Sharp (big Michelle Shocked fans...?).
It can't get much more profane than that, but perhaps the re-
sulting flack led them to hedge their bets this time around.

Incidentally, Big Black released Songs About Fucking around the
same time the Leaving Trains issued Fuck, and both albums seem-
ed to do well on the independent charts, so I'm not sure that Pus-
sy Galore needs to tread quite so lightly, but I could be wrong...

I asked Jon if they'd gotten much feedback from feminists, since
some women take offense to their very name, even if Agent 007
got there first. Jon says they haven't received much of a negative
response, and sounded a little surprised by that. "Do you think a
response if necessary if a woman says she finds your work degra-
ding?" I wondered. Jon said it depended on whether or not she
was familiar with his work; in which case, yes. If not, then no.

Click here for part three

Endnote: Images from Musical Family Tree and the All Music Guide.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dial P for Pussy Galore

Here's another in my series of musician interviews for KCMU's long-defunct mouthpiece Wire. In this one, I speak with Pussy Galore's Jon Spencer, who would go on to form the more commercially viable Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) and Heavy Trash. Along the way, he has collaborated with the likes of Andre Williams, the Gibson Brothers, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and wife Cristina Martinez in Boss Hog.

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Pussy Galore created an unholy metallic ruckus that was
part serious avant-garde noise wail, part nonsense pose.
-- John Dougan, All Music Guide

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Riddle me this. What would happen if you took the following re-
cords and popped 'em in a microwave on high: The Rolling Stones,
, the Fall - Totale's Turns, the Cramps - Rockinandreelininauk-
landnewzealand, Einstürzende Neubauten - Halber Mensch, and
NWA - Straight Outta Compton? Aside from the fact that you'd
have a sticky, black mess and a hefty repair bill, you'd also have
the raw ingredients for pressing up half a dozen copies of Pus-
sy Galore's latest long-player, Dial 'M' for Motherfucker.

In August [presumably in 1989], I interviewed Jon Spencer,
the lead singer of Pussy Galore by phone. He was back home
in New York City after the completion of the band's US tour.

First question: Why "Damaged"?

The original idea, as Jon puts it, was for Pussy Galore to
cover "New York City" by Johnny Thunders, "since we're from
New York," and for Tad to cover a Sex Pistols song about London.
Why a song about London for a band from Seattle, I couldn't say.

In any case, Tad's answer was, "No, I don't wanna cover a song by
a British band." And since Sonic Youth and Mudhoney had already
traded tunes for an earlier [Sub Pop] single, the whole Black Flag
idea came about. Jon said he liked 'em. Apparently Tad did, too.

Click here for part two

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text.
Formed in Washington DC in 1985, Pussy Galore
called it quits in '90. Spencer image from the BBC.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Movie of the Month: Part Eight

I recently reviewed the following
film for Video Librarian, and thought
the results were worth sharing.

(Stephen Kijak, 2006, US, 95 mins.)

"It was this thing that seemed to be flowing outside of time in a way."
-- Kijak on the first time he heard Walker's voice

After his 1960s success with the UK-based Walker Brothers ran its course, Ohio-born Scott Walker released several solo albums, and then disappeared. Every few years, a new record would mat-
erialize, but the former teen idol would not. He wasn’t finished with music-making, but he was finished with show business, and called a halt to all interviews, tours, and television appearances.

In talking about the film, Stephen Kijak, co-director of the fes-
tival favorite Cinemania, has explained that he earned the re-
clusive Walker's trust through years of email messages, phone
calls, and faxes until the man with the bottomless baritone final-
ly agreed to sit down for a couple of conversations and to allow
cameras into the studio during the making of 2006's eerie Drift.

Along with executive producer David Bowie, who credits Walker
for influencing his own theatrically-oriented work, speakers include Brian Eno, Lulu, Alison Goldfrapp, and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker (Queer as Folk actor Gale Harold provided further production assistance).

Conspicuous by their absence: friends and relatives, because Walker doesn't talk about his personal life, excepting a brief acknowledgement of a little too much “imbibing” in his past.

Though some may see this as a deficit, it allows the artist to main-
tain his well-guarded privacy and to retain an air of mystery. In-
stead, Kijak looks at specific albums and songs, and allows a few
outside voices to come into play, but there are no real dissenters.

Remarkably, the director dodges the hagiography bullet. As
he states in the production notes, "The plan was to try and shine
a black-light on the enigma—not to penetrate it, but to respect it, and to let the music tell its own story." Consequently, his docu-
mentary lives or dies by the otherworldly music, rather than
the earthbound life, of its subject. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part Seven: Stranded

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Click
here for my '07 interview with Kijak about the film. Images
from Urban Honking and Alama Drafthouse Cinema Blog.

Friday, July 10, 2009

LOOPED: Part Three


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"Loop were best experienced live. No two gigs were ever
the same, no song ever played the same twice. To them vol-
ume was vital to the whole experience. Loop live were 'felt'
not just seen or heard! A total assault on the senses."
-- Beggar's Banquet, Pspsyched (pronounced "spiked")

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Robert continues, "When we play live, we have no wish to repro-
duce exactly note-for-note renditions of what's on the vinyl. We
like to think that we never actually play the same song twice.
There's a very rough base to start with, because otherwise it
would be too unrecognizable." And in the concert context, Loop
successfully invested their material with new life, though they
didn't perform any of the covers they've recorded over the years.

He explains, "We want to get away from doing covers for awhile.
We've done three or four. We don't really want to base our car-
eer on other bands' material." Loop certainly hasn't based
their album covers on those of other bands. During the
course of our conversation, I discovered that Robert
involves himself in the artwork for all their sleeves.

The cover of their latest LP, released in England as two EPs,
features a doctored photograph of Jupiter, and their most re-
cent 12-inch, "Arc-Lite," sports a computer-generated image
of Mars. Is it any wonder this interstellar explorer digs Sun Ra?

As far as the two-EPs versus one-CD configuration goes, Robert
states that he prefers vinyl, and feels that the UK edition of A Gil-
ded Eternity "sounds equally as good as the CD. In fact, in some
ways I think it sounds a bit better—it sounds a bit more alive. CDs
sometimes tend to flatten the sound out. I was disgusted with a lot
of the record shops in America—all CDs. I think that's terrible."

Concerning current favorite records, Robert expressed fond-
ness for the Shimmy Disc label, particularly the late B.A.L.L.
and Bongwater. He also praised the new Killdozer single, "Her
Mother's Sorrow," while his favorite bands on Loop's first A-
merican tour include the Jesus Lizard, Bewitched (featuring
Bob Bert from Pussy Galore), and Seattle's own Nirvana.

Robert claims not to be a big follower of the Seattle/Sub
Pop sound—even though, with his long hair, plaid shirt, dark
jeans, and lust for volume, he would fit right in—although he
admits to owning Nirvana's full-length debut Bleach, which
he really likes, and the Mudhoney/Sonic Youth split single.

[Loop would go on to record a split seven-inch with Godflesh,
which now appears on The World in Your Eyes collection.]

"Arc-Lite" (A Gilded Eternity, 1990)

Further, Robert claims Hendrix as the Seattle musician he
admires the most. He collects bootlegs and t-shirts and look-
ed forward to visiting Jimi's gravesite while he was in town.

As for other artists from the past, he mentioned Can, whose mu-
sic he discovered years before, because his then-favorite acts, 23
Skidoo and Cabaret Voltaire, often cited them as an influence.

He notes that Soundtracks is probably his favorite simply because
it was the first Can LP he ever heard, but that he thinks they're all
good. He also enthused about the MC5's High Time, describing it
as "their most complete record, and it's got really great songs."

And the same could be said for Loop.

Click here to return to part one

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text.
Click here for the Head Heritage review of A Gil-
ded Eternity. Image from Beggar's Banquet.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Part Two

Click here
for part one

I got the
nity to talk
to the trim,
brown-haired Englishman before Loop's show this past May at the Backstage.

For a fellow who doesn't use a last name, in the vein of pop stars Dion and Madonna, I found the musician surprisingly down-to-earth. And in light of the fact that his work frequently inspires epithets such as as "arty" and "pretentious"—which aren't comp-
letely off the mark—that was a refreshing discovery. He was also quite forthcoming, though a record company rep specifically re-
quested that I not ask anything about the Spacemen 3 or drugs.

It's unfortunate that Robert doesn't field questions about the
band to which Loop bears the greatest resemblance, since such
comparisons aren't necessarily unflattering, but I guess he's tired
of talking about this similar-styled, but unrelated outfit over and
over again. As for narcotics, they shouldn't be an issue at all. Slight
fatigue aside, he was definitely coherent and clear-minded when
we spoke. The only apparent mood-enhancing agent: nicotine.

"Collision" (Fade Out, 1989)

Instead, I asked about the oft-used "guitar band" tag and what
he thought when listeners applied it to his combo. It makes per-
fect sense, really, since his powerful playing dominates every
Loop performance. "We are a guitar band," he admitted, "but
we try to make 'un-guitar' sounds. It's okay being described like
that, but it's when we're called a 'rock' band or something—I do-
n't really appreciate that. Yeah, it's slightly rock, but that's not
the sort of tradition we come out of." (Though Loop does rock.)

Their concert that night was good, but not quite the mind-ex-
panding experience I had been expecting. I wouldn't blame the
band entirely as they had no soundcheck. Although they arriv-
ed in town only two hours later than planned, their equipment
didn't follow suit until six hours later—in time for them to set
things up, but too late to play a single note as the opening act,
Love Battery, was scheduled to launch their set momentarily.

Once Loop started playing, they
sounded fine. What marred the gig
was the inordinate amount of time
Robert spent tuning and complaining
about the sound between every selec-
tion. (It sounded all right to me.) Still,
he has a reputation, deserved or not,
for being a bit of a diva once he takes
the stage, even though he seems like
a pleasant enough guy in person.

All things considered, I enjoyed the show. I especially
appreciated the fact that his vocals register more dis-
tinctly live than on wax where they tend to get lost in
the mix. He has a nice voice; I was never sure before.

As far as the difference between recording and playing live, he
noted, "There's a lot more room in the studio. Instead of playing
the whole guitar, we always play little bits at a time and join them
all together later, so they make a continuous whole...and obvious-
ly, if we did that live, we'd need eight guitarists!" Loop features
two; Robert on lead and Scott [Dawson] on rhythm guitar.

Click here for part three

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original
text. Images from TheSirensSound and Discogs.

Friday, July 03, 2009


Now that Gilded Eternity (two-CD set) and World in Your Eyes (three-CD set) are receiving the deluxe reissue treatment, this seems like the ideal time to reproduce my 1990 Wire interview with Loop front man Robert Hampson (Reactor previously reissued Heaven's End and Fade Out, so their catalog is now complete). Sadly, the band would break up a year later, and Hampson would continue on as Main...and Robert Hampson.

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"Loop latched onto thrashed blues grooves and rode
them hard, oscillating between distorted, hypnotic and
ambient soundscapes while throwing in samples from
2001: A Space Odyssey for good measure."
-- Scott Thill, Wired

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A loop is something that goes 'round and around. It's also the
name of a trio* from Croydon, England. Their music goes 'round
and around, too, but like a loop, it doesn't actually go anywhere,
always returning to the same theme. Each Loop song, from their
first record, Heaven's End (Head), to their latest, A Gilded Eterni-
ty (Beggar's Banquet/RCA), is different from the other—but not
by much. Each one is distinctively Loop's, and they're all good.

* Sometimes, like their rivals in Spacemen 3, a quartet.

Their name actually derives from a rare Velvet Underground flexi-
disc that accompanied a long-forgotten publication called Aspen.
Robert, Loop's founder, claims White Light/White Heat as one of
his favorite albums. Not surprisingly, it's the VU recording that
utilizes the greatest amount of repetition and distortion.

In comparing Loop to bands that have come before, VU defin-
itely qualifies, but rather than citing specific bands or records, it
makes more sense to cite specific songs. For instance, Loop has
more in common, stylistically, with VU's reverb-saturated "Sis-
ter Ray" or the much-reviled "Murder Mystery" than to VU in
a general sense. On the contrary, Loop is very...particular.

"Soundhead" (Heaven's End, 1987)

Further song references include Can's "Mother Sky," which they
cover on the B-side of their "Black Sun" 12-inch, Suicide's "Rocket
USA," which appears on their first LP, the Stooges' "We Will Fall,"
which was produced by VU's John Cale, the MC5's version of Sun
Ra's "Starship"—and not the Spacemen 3's—and even John Col-
trane's acid-drenched aberration "Om" ("I am Ommmm!!!").

If you were to play these epic (sound)tracks for someone who
had never heard Loop before, they'd still have some idea what
to expect, which isn't to suggest that they're completely predict-
able once you're aware of their influences; just that these num-
bers do provide some reference points towards understand-
ing what they're all about—and they're all about repetition!

Fortunately, the result isn't repetition as an end in and of itself,
although it probably sounds that way to their detractors. Simp-
ly put, if you don't like any of the aforementioned outfits, you
probably won't like Loop. Their goal is more about establish-
ing a certain mood than merely serving as something for lis-
teners to "rock out" to (although you can do that, too).

They're basically coming from the same sort of experimental
tradition that reached full flower in the late-1960s/early-'70s
German scene that spawned musical innovators Faust, Amon
Duul II, and Neu! Like fellow '90s mood merchants the Flam-
ing Lips, Robert doesn't like to be described as "a throwback
to the '60s" or "psychedelic"—one and the same as far as he's
concerned. "I think when you get called psychedelic," he ex-
plains, "it makes it sound as if you're still living in the '60s."

Click here for part two

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Click
here for my Wire interview with Sonic Boom and here
for my Hype one with Jason Pierce. Image from Wired.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

July Reviews

These are the reviews and other pieces I'm working on this month.

Amazon DVDs: Weeds - Season Four [three-disc set] and Leverage - The
1st Season
(with Timothy Hutton)
[three-disc set]

Still playing (or yet to open): Chéri, Cold Souls, Food, Inc., Public Enemies,
State of Play, The Stoning of Soraya M., Summer Hours, and Sunshine Cleaning.

Amazon profile: Sidney Poitier for Armchair Commentary.

Amazon TV project: Researched and wrote about Adam-
12, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Agatha Christie's
Marple, Baki the Grappler, Black Lagoon, Burke's Law, Cad-
fael, Chancer, Claymore, Code Monkeys, The Commish, Dan-
ger Mouse, Darker Than Black, Doc Martin, Eloise, Extreme En-
gineering, Father Knows Best, Hetty Wainthropp, Hey Arnold, Highway to Heaven, Holly Hobbie and Friends, Jeeves and Wooster, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, The Kids in the Hall,
League of Gentlemen, Life, and Men Behaving Badly.

Sidenote: I previously
reviewed box sets of The
Commish, Father Knows
Best, and The Kids in the
Hall; this time I wrote

75-100 word synopses.

Siffblog: Made in USA, Lake Tahoe, new links for Le
Petit Lietenant
, Matthew Barney - No Restraint
, and
Metal - A Headbanger's Journey. Also, a Q&A with Lynn
and the continuation of a chat with Barry Jenkins.

Still playing (in Tacoma): The Merry Gentleman.

Video Librarian: A Baby Story - First Time Parents, Let
Freedom Sing - How Music Inspired the Civil Rights Move-
ment, Mechanical Love, RiP! A Remix Manifesto, The Work-
shop, Dragon Hunters, Nursery University, Chihuly in the Hot-
shop, One Peace at a Time, Local Color, Queens of Country,
Botswana - In the Footsteps of the No. 1 Ladies Detective,
and The Rolling Stones - The Bigger Bang [four-disc set].

Chancer images from DVD Talk and Murph's Place.
I like the way the Chancer press book biography, reproduced at
the latter site, describes the 26-year-old Clive Owen as an "ac-
tor with the dark, brooding good looks of a young Elvis Presley."