Thursday, January 28, 2010

CB Q/A #32: Peter Silberman (The Antlers)

You gotta hand it to the folks at Musica in Akron. While it seems like the Beachland gets the bulk of the best indie shows that come through Northeast Ohio, with the Grog getting its share and the private schools lassoing those acts hungry for a fat guarantee, the folks in Akron have staged a coup or three and booked acts like Dinosaur Jr and Ra Ra Riot, prompting a temporary migration to Rubber City.

This Saturday marks another talent buyer score as acclaimed Brooklyn indie rock group The Antlers take the stage. Fronted by Peter Silberman and increasingly renowned for the beautiful quiet of their album Hospice, The Antlers visit Akron as they prepare to tour parts of North America and, later in the spring, western Europe.

In preparation for this visit, frontman Silberman recently took the time to participate in the following Q&A. Check it out ...

1) What were you listening to when you made Hospice?

I'm not sure anymore. I get confused about what I was listening to then and what I'm listening to now. There's a lot of records I used to listen to that I'm suddenly hearing very differently. I was listening to Dirty Three at some point.

2) What are your plans for 2010?

Recording and touring, touring in-between recording and recording in-between touring. Getting used to all of that.

3) Say it was your birthday and you could headline your dream bill. Who would open for you?

I don't think I'd want to headline my dream bill on my birthday. I would just love to see Portishead or Bjork.

4) Where did the concept that drives Hospice (a terminally ill yet abusive person to care for) come from?

The story is loosely autobiographical. Some of it's nightmares, and my memory of these things gets confounded with dreams I had after the fact. Now that the album's got legs, it's getting even more confusing for me.

5) What's the biggest difference, other than the live sound onstage, in having three members in the band instead of just you, as it was originally?

It feels like a team. Being in a band is about trusting people, being able to read one another's thoughts and act accordingly.

6) Any memorable previous Cleveland experiences?

We played at a college near Cleveland last time through. I think that might have been the first time our then-tourmates Holly Miranda and Timmy Mislock sang with us on stage.

To meet Peter and the rest of The Antlers, be sure to hit Musica in Akron on Saturday. Tickets are only $10 (and available here), doors open at 8, and opening acts Wild Boy of Averyon and Annabel do their thing shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CB Q/A #31: Ti West, Director of The House of the Devil

I'm kind of persnickety when it comes to horror movies. I used to say I liked high concept and low brow, but nothing in the middle, but as the horror-porn Saw-esque franchises have proved profitable, they've taken over that end of the spectrum, leaving horror film goers a choice between the mass-market dreck, the sophisticated stuff, and 473 new zombie flicks a year.

All this to say, whenever the CIA Cinematheque programs a horror movie, I do my darndest to make sure I see it. Such is the case with the latest artifact from the genre to make John Ewing's programming list, Ti West's The House of the Devil.

The film's creation, which focuses on the experience of a young college student sent to an evil house for a babysitting date with dark forces, was in the capable yet youthful hands of director Ti West, who has put together a nice string of well-recieved indie horror films in recent years. This film was one of West's own screenplays, thus enhancing the directorial likelihood of achieving the author's vision.

Before you venture over to the CIA to see how things turned out, take a gander at my recent Q&A with West below. During our conversation we discussed the film's relationship with the golden age of horror film making in the 70s, the balancing act between director as artist and director as careerist when dealing with obstructionist production companies, and how Cleveland can become a more attractive market for future film makers, among other intriguing topics. Check both it and the film out!

1) The horror genre may be one filled with directorial homages more than any other. Did you directly include any hidden hat tips or love letters to previous films or directors that influenced you in The House of the Devil?

Not specifically. Definitely homage runs rampant in horror movies, but I think The House of the Devil gets classified as an homage more than I wish it would be. Because it is a period piece, it gets people confused and they think it is a kitschy throwback to the 1970s. Certainly, the title sequence has the big bulky font with copyright at the bottom as reminiscent of that time period, but more because I wanted to make it look like that period. Of course, most of my subconscious is filled with a lot of the horror movies that I love from era, but I’ve never consciously made an homage like that.

2) There seems to have been a small dust-up between you and the production company that put out The House of the Devil over removed scenes. How did that issue eventually resolve itself and did you learn anything new about the industry in this instance?

All that actually happened the week right before Tribeca. In the end, it resolved itself just fine – the film showed at Tribeca in a form I wasn’t too in to, but a lot of reviewers saw my version and the hullabaloo over the whole thing caused them [the production company] to change the film back to my original version. Eventually, Magnolia bought the film and fully restored the way it should be.

In terms of learning, I’ve actually dealt with this same issue on a much worse scale on a previous film. I understand why it happens, though. Fear is a major part of what drives people who invest in movies and sometimes bad decisions are made based upon that fear. I just think it is unavoidable and so it becomes really important to work with people who trust you. If I invested a bunch of money, I’d be afraid too. I hope it doesn’t happen again but it has happened two times already.

When it happens, you have to think about how you want to react. You don’t want to be known as a lunatic filmmaker who demands everything, but then again sometimes when you are backed in a corner that’s all you have. It is defintely a career making movies, so you have to make decisions accordingly, but it is also a lifestyle. What if it was my last movie and it came out in a way I wasn’t happy? You have to be proud of what goes up on the screen.

3) You’ve received “special thanks” acknowledgments from a couple of mumblecore staples (Alexander the Last and Nights & Weekends) and Greta Gerwig, one of the leading figures in that genre, has an important role in The House of the Devil – do you see yourself as a member of that movement? Does it influence the work you do?

No, and I don’t think they think of themselves like that. In 2005, me and Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers and Andrew Bujalski were all at SXSW, and we realized we were all making movies and that we all got along.

Rather than a movement, I see it more as we are all just sort of friends who came up at the same time. We help each other on our movies and talk about ideas, but nothing so formal as a movement. Instead, it’s all just people you know and hang out with and have the same sort of sensibilities.

4) What role do you think SXSW plays in film today?

I think there are two perceptions: the real perception and industry perception. To people in the industry, SXSW is on a slightly lower tier than other important festivals. Toronto and Sundance are basically looked at as tier 1, and festivals like sxsw and Tribeca are in the second tier. I think these categories are unfortunate.

In terms of programming being responsible for taking movies and highlighting them and letting people know what is being done, rather than being a launching pad for Hollywood movies, SXSW is way better. Sundance premieres giant movies that are gonna come out anyway.

Austin is probably one of the most artistically supportive places I’ve ever been to. Some people consider it off the beaten path, in that it is not New York or Los Angeles, so the location gets a little bit of cold shoulder, but think it is the best festival in terms of premiering content.

5) Losers Take All seems a significant departure from all the other features on your resume. Is this an effort to break out of the horror genre?

It is more that the series of horror movies I made was a coincidence. It was not my goal or intention to make four horror films in a row; it just sort of happened that way. I love horror movies and I’d like to continue making horror movies, but not only horror movies. But so far, the way the opportunities have come, that’s what I’ve been able to do. And especially when the opportunity to make a movie about the early 80s hardcore scene came up, I had to do it. It is just kind of the way things have fallen. I’ve seen plenty of romantic comedies and action movies I wanted to make, but it just so happens that the money has come through on these horror movies.

In the future, I want to make a movie every year. If it is a horror movie, great, if it is something else, that’s great too. I just want to make movies.

6) The city of Cleveland has been making some noise about wanting to become a more film-friendly city. Beyond tax breaks, what would you advise city leaders to do?

The tax thing is helpful but you need to go to places with filmmaking communities. Aside from offering tax breaks, I’d say city leaders should try to educate themselves about what kind of things need to be done to make the city more desirable for film production. Make it the kind of place where getting laundry done for 80 at 4 AM is possible, where getting scaffolding at 2 AM can be done. My guess is that there isn’t anyone I could call in Cleveland to get scaffolding at that time, but in LA and New York there are clear options.

And then there is just being welcoming by seeing local businesses helping out, giving good hotel rates, etc. Being a city or state that when you go there, the city understands what you are trying to accomplish and is welcoming. Michigan has this great 40% rate, but there isn’t anyone there who can work at the level you need and you have to spend all this money to bring your equipment out of Chicago because you can’t get it there. They don’t have what it takes to make movie on a large scale, say on a budget of $1.5 million and up.

For example, say you are doing a big action film and you need to get 5 blocks downtown closed for 12 hours. If I call the police in Cleveland to ask about that, they aren’t going to have any clue how to respond, but in New York they know where to send you right away.

7) Any memorable Cleveland experiences to share?

Not really, I’ve just kind of drove through it. It was a very quick, very milquetoast experience, so it is not a place I know.

The House of the Devil
will screen at the CIA Cinematheque (11141 East Boulevard, Cleveland) on Thursday, 1/28, at 9:05 PM and on Friday, 1/29, at 7:30 PM.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Celluloid Bachelor #51: D. Rider "Touchy"

Let me guess - right now you are thinking ... WTF?

Yeah. That's what I thought, too.

The folks in D. Rider are up to something, and whatever it is, it's pretty weird.

But weird in a cool way, which is exactly what one would expect given the role frontman Todd Rittmann has played as founder of seminal band U.S. Maple and the supergroup Singer.

Those of you who like their rock a touch creepy and threatening, with a hint of sonicized sexual tension (or would that be sexualized sonic tension?), you are definitely gonna want to hit the band's show at Now That's Class on Tuesday night. The show is the first stop on the band's first serious trip out of their Chicago hometown, so it'll be particularly special.

So that's how he does it

Ever wonder how J Mascis shreds like that? Check this schematic out. (And, yes, it is extravagant enough to merit the word schematic. This is like the Death Star of rock engineering.)

Show Review: Ronnie Spector/Afternoon Naps @ Beachland Ballroom, 1/22/10

I begin with this: I expected big things from this show. Afternoon Naps are one of the best bands in town right now and Ronnie Spector is, well, Ronnie Spector. Add to that the $35 ticket price, the rumors of flown-in NYC musicians, and the general state of excitement hovering around the Beachland in the days running up to the show, well, I thought this would be an evening to remember.

Turns out, it was, but maybe not for the reasons one would expect, or hope.

I should also preface what follows with the fact that I love the Beachland and that I consider a couple of members of Afternoon Naps to be pretty good friends of mine, so I took an extra day to think about how I was going to write what I did.

The next day, when talking with a friend who went to the show with me, the main descriptor I could apply to the show as a whole was that it was weird. Weird in so many ways. The old crowd (which makes sense for a show headlined by a woman whose success came in the 60s), the bizarre security cop who alternated between yelling at strangers to not take pictures (when they weren't) and ignoring 10 photographers in a row when they did, only to run full speed down the side of the room to stop photographer #11, before returning outside to talk on her cell phone some more, the weirdo younger couple who made out to "Frosty the Snowman" before throwing up devil's horns, unironically, at the song's end, the angry family outing seated in front of us with the wife who wouldn't take off her coat or speak to her husband and the 12-year-old boy who was in the deepest, arms-crossed pout I've ever seen throughout the show, and so on and so on and so on.

And that's not even getting to the music. I've seen the Naps near 20 times now, and they played the songs they usually play, but given the strange stage schematic (clearly Ronnie Spector's peeps set up their stage and then made the Naps squeeze in where they could around the pre-claimed space), the unusual crowd, and maybe - to be honest - the failure to warm up vocally for one of the two singers pre-performance, made it a weird experience. The band wasn't in its element and, well, it sorta showed.

Ronnie Spector, though, she should've been in her element, but I think the sun has set on that career. Although there were some highlights - "Baby, I Love You" and "Be My Baby" especially - and at least one of her new songs, something about hearts rearranging, was pretty great, the rest of the performance was pretty poor, at least from Spector. Her band, of course, was first-rate, but it seems like Ronnie's next tour needs to be her farewell tour. During the show, I looked at my facebook page a couple times via my phone and saw that not only were a fair number of my friends at the show, scattered in different areas, but everyone thought poor Ms. Spector was either drunk or suffering from dementia. And, well, I was right there with them. Her audience interactions didn't really make sense, the abortive attempts at stage banter between songs often tailed off or just didn't make sense, her need to take seated breaks between and occasionally during songs revealed the fact her health wasn't up to the type of performance that had been designed, and her occasional moments of forgetfulness, including the way the entire first song of the encore went, were borderline alarming.

Worst of all, though, is that Spector's voice is gone. I mean, she isn't hoarse, but rather the ability to execute her vocals like she once did just isn't there. Instead, it seemed like karaoke night at the old folks home and the woman whose turn it was did a mediocre job of channeling little Veronica Bennett from 1962.

That, though, wasn't what folks were paying $35 (!) for.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The week ahead: 1/24-1/30 (CB's mostly out of town and didn't do due diligence for the rest of you edition)

I have to admit, I totally blew off paying attention to things going on this week. I'm gonna be out of town for much of the week, and the days that I'll be in town, I'm ridiculously busy. So, being the selfish a-hole I am, I didn't bother writing notes on my calendar about all the cool stuff I would be doing, if I could be doing it.

Thus, don't be surprised when you see "tba" after "tba." And please don't anything tba'd. Sorry, I failed you. We are both going to have to accept this.

Sunday, 1/24 - Catch Cleveland's finest music blogger manning the wheels of steel at this week's Beachland Brunch before viewing either the CSU game against UW-Milwaukee or the filmic portrayal of J.M. Coetzee's celebrated novel, Disgrace, about a white South African professor fired after seducing a mixed-race student at the CMA at 1:30.

Monday, 1/25 - tba

Tuesday, 1/26 - Happy Indie Orthodox New Years! A while back, the Dynamic Duo at the helm of Music Saves realized that the industry puts out a TON of new releases on a Tuesday late in January every year, typically the first big release date since the beginning of the preceding holiday season. In other words, cause for a major hipster celebration. And if you know anything about said duo, it's that they love celebrations.
Wednesday, 1/27 - tba

Thursday, 1/28 - tba

Friday, 1/29 - I'm gonna be out of town tonight, but if I weren't, I can tell you exactly what I'd be up to: catching the opening of the new exhibit at MOCA, From Then To Now: Masterworks of Contemporary African American Art and then heading to the Beachland to hear guitar maniac (and just plain maniac) Glen Schwartz play the Ballroom.
Saturday, 1/30 - Three good options for your entertainment pleasure this evening. The sports-inclined can check out the CSU/Youngstown State battle while the music lovers in you can check out The Antlers @ Akron's Musica club. Finally, you good deed doers out there can check out Ali Fest at the Town Fryer - a daylong fundraiser to benefit local musician Ali Porter, who recently suffered a broken neck and is in need of some support until the healing comes. Click here for more information.

Other stuff to keep your eye on the followi1ng week:

- 2/1 - Movits @ Grog Shop
- 2/5 - Music Saves 33 1/3 Birthday Party
- 2/5 - Along an Eastern Shore screens @ CMA
- 2/6 - Cool As Ice screens @ Cedar-Lee
- 2/6 - Mystery of Two/Filmstrip @ Arts Collinwood (Terry Durst exhibit closing)
- 2/7 - The Mutt Hutt's Smooches and Pooches Valentine's Dance
- 2/8 - Holy Land Hardball @ Mandel Jewish Community Center

An Enticing Offer

Recently CB HQ was presented an opportunity to attend a pretty cool one-day indoor music festival in Ontario next month for cheap. Sadly, old CB won't be able to take the opportunity up, but the kind folks who made the two tickets available are so eager to find them happy and appreciative homes, that they gave me the OK to make a public posting here.

So, here's the deal: On Saturday, February 6th, the Hillside Inside Festival takes place in Guelph, Ontario (a funky little college town about 4 hours from here and about 1 hour from Toronto). Guelph is known already for a strong annual summer event, and the preceding relationship has allowed them to book a roster that includes the following acts: The Rural Alberta Advantage, Final Fantasy, Martin Sexton, Hawksley Workman, Ani DiFranco, Bahamas, Woodhands, Socalled, Basia Bulat, Delhi 2 Dublin, and Elisapie Isaac.

If you are interested in the pair of tickets, send me a note and I'll put you in touch with their current owners. In their correspondence with me, they noted the tickets weren't expensive and that they definitely planned to work out a fair price with whoever might want to have them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Congratulations, Cleveland, We've Finally Made it!

Folks, the City of Cleveland has arrived. Or, at least, Kim Kardashian has.

(Photo credit: Kathleeen Murphy Colan)

I mean, the Kardashians don't just visit any city, right? That Barley House party was something special, a meaningful moment to reflect on the city's cultural ascendence. Moreover, in light of this development, all the hard work by cultural entrepreneurs across the city has come to fruition.

Now we can all retire.

Or so one might think, given all the breathless "reporting" of this celebrity visit.

Seriously, if the powers that be at the Plain Dealer would've spent 5% of the effort they gave covering this non-event on investigating the county corruption scandal, just imagine how things might be...

But enough of the cynicism. If you arrived at this page via google, you probably don't want to think about that. Instead, here is the link to the article. And the photo gallery. And the video coverage. And what was the live coverage. And the fancy image screen scrolling.

Who says journalism in Cleveland is dead?

CB Q/A #30: Alan Sparhawk (Low, The Retribution Gospel Choir)

There aren't a lot of senior statesmen in indie rock these days, especially ones that will participate in a Q&A with a city-specific, non-monetized blog, so if you need one more reason to go see Alan Sparhawk play with his side project band, The Retribution Gospel Choir, tonight at the Grog Shop, how about this one: he keeps it real.

Of course, you shouldn't really need any more reasons other than the fact that Sparhawk is a legendary rocker. The frontman of the inimitable Minnesota-based indie band Low, which also features his wife, Mimi Parker, and bass player Steve Garrington, who is also a member of The Retribution Gospel Choir, Sparhawk is renowned for his cold country lilt and his patient, near pondering, approach to the sound.

And now, for me anyway, he's known for being the kind of guy who takes the time to reply to an interview solicitation, even when younger and far less established musicians (I'm looking at you, Dutchess & the Duke, and you, Annie Clark) can't be bothered to do the same. Check out our conversation below, which touches on the roots of the band's name, Sparhawk's recent musical inspirations, and what makes rock meaningful for the man from Duluth.

1) Obviously Retribution Gospel Choir allows you to wear a different musical hat than you do with Low. What are the upsides and downsides to this "wardrobe" expansion?
The upsides are endless, the downside is having to answer to it.

2) What are you listening to these days? How is the music that influenced you on the new RGC album different from what you were listening to when you made the debut album?

I've listened to a lot of reggae music in more recent years. I highly recommend any effort to immerse yourself in music from jamaica. There are priceless jewels to be found from a music that is so spiritual and human. Also, i'm a fan of Ali Farka Toure and there have been a lot of great recordings out recently by him and others from West Africa. I don't know that what we have been listening to has changed in a way that would effect the new record differently, but I know doing a lot of shows since the first record has really helped...

3) What was the inspiration for the name of the band (Retribution Gospel Choir)?

The name is sort of from the travelling gospel choirs you see on the road in America. They always have the name painted on the side of their van. Retribution is about paying back or re-tributing yourself to what you know you should be, despite your failings. I think we're trying to let something spiritual happen when we play for people - that's what a gospel choir does, too. The name may be cause for some people to pause, but that's their own fault.

4) What do you have planned for 2010?

Play shows. See if people want more. Make a new record with mim. Prty with our kids.

5) What song(s) are you guys having the best experience playing out right now?

"Poor man's daughter" is usually the core of the apple for us, but "Hide it Away" feels so great to get right, that it's worth every other time I don't quite make it.

6) Any memorable Cleveland experiences you can share?

We played the grog show early on in the band. Swampy (the unforgettable house sound-man) came up after the show and in his own way, gave me a very honest thumbs up on the gig. Sounds sappy, but that's the shit that makes life pure.

To meet Alan and the rest of The Retribution Gospel Choir, be sure to hit the Grog Shop TONIGHT. Tickets are only $8, doors open at 9, and opening acts Teenage Grandpa and Marathon do their thing shortly thereafter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Proper Noun of the Week #28: Jacob Wesley Lang

I owe the Waterloo Road Arts District a great debt. Because of it, I've both found a home and met countless fascinating, talented, and immensely creative people, many of whom I've subsequently grown to become friends with. Getting to know these folks has broadened my appreciation of the art they create, extending my interest from not just what eventually gets hung on the gallery wall but how (and, to some extent, why) the piece went from initial idea to execution.

That's one of the reasons I'm so stoked about presenting Jacob Wesley Lang as the next Proper Noun subject on this blog. One of the aforementioned folks I've been lucky enough to get to know and befriend, Jacob is an impressive artist who shines the spotlight equally on the finished product and the process that led to it. All this week and some of last, Jacob has been installed in Low Life Gallery, making the art that gallery-goers can see firsthand on Friday night. At times, this residency has become a collaborative event, as friends and neighbors have stopped in to drop off or harvest the raw materials he's been working with.

The show, "FROZEN DELIGHT," represents the initial undertaking of an idea about visual artists traveling in the same manner as a touring band: using the musician's model, traveling from place to place, creating an entirely new body of work and then exhibiting, at each stop along the way. Lang intends to take the same residential approach to future shows in other cities, arriving, creating, exhibiting, and then moving on, time and time again. Each time, he will adapt three techniques (paintings made by freezing paint and water into ice cubes, then melting them on paper; magazine cutouts made by burning pages, using a circular saw blade as a stencil; and collages of cut and pasted letters, assembled to resemble ransom notes) to the available resources at any given stop, thus leading to works that are influenced by the environments in which they are created.

The process, plan, and philosophy behind this inaugural effort are just the kind that will certainly yield an enjoyable head-scratch. Recently, Jacob took a few moments to respond to my Proper Noun survey, and his answers provide a little illumination into the man behind the meta-project. Of course, meeting him at the opening and viewing the work itself is the best way to really get this one.

1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?

Originally, I'm from Maine. When I graduated high school, I moved to NYC for a year off before completing 3 semesters of college and then transferring to Oberlin for 2 more semesters. After finally committing to dropping out of school, I moved to Austin, TX for a spell and then onto San Francisco. I returned to Oberlin in 1999, this time just as a Townie, where I opened a collaborative digital printmaking studio called Pangaea Press. Then 3 years later, I relocated to Cleveland in order to be closer to the artists I was working with through Pangaea. For the most part, I lived in Tremont before moving to the Waterloo Arts District about a year and a half ago.

2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?

It would have to be the first time I drove into the city. I had just finished my first year of college in NYC and caught a ride here with a classmate to meet up with my folks, who were living in Dayton at the time. We were driving in at night, up I-77. I can still feel my face pressed against the glass trying to familiarize myself with the surroundings. The city is certainly tiny in comparison to NYC, but that night it seemed mysterious; like a place worth exploring.

3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?

I'm sure my creative output over the last few years has been affected by living here, possibly in ways I'm not be aware of, but it feels to me like the body of work I've been creating for FROZEN DELIGHT is the first time the city has been this pronounced in my art. The show feels like it's about the experiences I've had since being here on Waterloo. All of the work has been produced in the neighborhood, between my studio above Arts Collinwood and at Low Life Gallery, which definitely effects the outcome. But that probably also has to do with a conscious shift in my working process to allow external influences to factor more in my artmaking practices.

4) If it was your birthday and you decided to have a Cleveland-centric blow-out bash, how would you celebrate? That is, what would you do, where would you do it, etc.?

I can be a bit of a hermit at times and prefer it when I can keep my activities local. Recently, there was a wonderful evening with everything I need, all within a two block radius of my home! It started out with Terry Durst's opening @ Arts Collinwood - which is an AMAZING show - followed by the Scene's "Bands to Watch" @ the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern. After that, everyone from the Beachland poured down the street to the Boardwalk for a "closing time" performance by locals Casual Encounters. Then, a couple more doors down there was an all-night housewarming party, thrown by some folks who are new to the neighborhood. It was the first time I've seen the crowds here cover that much distance up and down the street. If I could figure out how it all came together, I'd definitely try and recreate something like that.

This weekend should be good too, though. Got FROZEN DELIGHT @ Low Life, up only through the weekend; Terry Durst's show @ Arts Collinwood and there's also the Cafe there; Ronnie Spector, HotChaCha and Sunday Brunch @ the Beachland. Lots to see and hear. And you never know what other kind of unexpected fun might just stumble into.

5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?

MELT is a no-brainer! Also, the Cleveland Museum of Art and any of the Metro Parks. Maybe, a ride out to Oberlin for brunch at the Feve and a walk around town. It would most likely depend on who was visiting at the time. Although not many of my friends or family seem to want to make the trip here. Go figure...

6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?

I favor the idea of everyone who has moved away in the past 10 years moving back. If you can find a cooler, more affordable place to live, more power to you. But having to work my ass off to afford a Fanciful Big City life is really not my style. I can pursue my passions here without having to spend all my time working to keep up with the expenses of them. Having lived in both NYC and SF, I know that if I were living there now, I'd certainly not have the kind of "wide time" to dedicate to my art. Might be cooler places to see and be seen; and don't get me wrong, Brooklyn is cool. So is San Francisco. For me though, it all comes down to being able to make my artwork, not where or with whom. When I'm not making art, there's still plenty of potential for seeing interesting things, having new experiences and meeting unique people.

7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?

Being born naturally recalcitrant that's a hard question to answer. I'm not really interested in appealing to authority figures; putting faith in them inevitably leads to being let down. Like Gandhi, I believe "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." Anything worth working towards always begins at the grass roots level. If you see something that needs correcting outside your window, invest your own time and energy finding a solution rather than having to depend on someone else to do it for you. It's far more gratifying.

To meet Jacob and check out his work yourself, stop by Low Life Gallery this Friday for the opening of his solo show, "FROZEN DELIGHT." The gallery is located at 16001 Waterloo Road in Cleveland.

And if you found this post interesting, check out previous Proper Noun of the Week conversations about Cleveland and culture with the following interesting folks: Frank Revy, Bill Rupnik, Mina Hoyle, Brendan Walton, Leia Alligator, Arabella Proffer, Becca Riker, Greg Ruffing, Mallorie Freeman, Dave Desimone, J.R. Bennett, Jeff & Mike from CLE Clothing Co, Paulius Nasvytis, Lawrence Daniel Caswell, Curtis Thompson, John Ewing, Shannon Okey, John G, Sean Bilovecky, Dana Depew, Fred Wright, Amanda Montague, Ryan Weitzel, Garrett Komyati, Vince Slusarz, and Jonah Jacobs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Celluloid Bachelor #50: Floating Action "50 Lashes"

Today's video isn't from a new track, but it is from the catchiest track off one of my favorite albums of 2009. Tha album was Floating Action's self-titled record and it came in #5 on my list of the top 25 releases of last year. (You can check out the full list here).

As I wrote then, this is a band I totally can't brag about discovering in any organic way. A friend of mine burned me a CD, and then when I fell in love, I mentioned them to another friend of mine, who turned out to be the one who burned the same CD for the friend who gave it to me in the first place! The album is wonderful, a one-man band who sounds like the best Caribbean-influenced indie pop quintet you've ever heard or ever will. (Think Dent May but way less gimmicky.) I cannot wait for the day this act makes its way to Clevelandland. Until then, I'll continue to assuage my free cd guilt by telling anyone and everyone about the record.

The track is "50 Lashes," a lazy, almost Hawaiian sounding ditty about love, sacrifice, and the limits involved therein. The video is made up of stop-motion photography that documents the band alternately playing hoops, goofing around, and gigging on the court. It's pretty cool and, somehow, appropriate. Dig it.

CB Q/A #29: Jonathan Parker, Director of {Untitled}

The first time I heard about Jonathan Parker's {Untitled}, it was described to me as a sharper satirical take on the art world than Art School Confidential, which I loved. That got my attention, but it was when I put two and two together, linking the director's name with his previous film Bartleby (a stylized cinematic take on Herman Melville's classic short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener), that I was really intrigued.

As per usual, I had John Ewing of the CIA Cinematheque to thank for bringing the film to my attention. In Ewing's own description, Parker's film is a "funny, knowing, yet affectionate spoof of the downtown New York art scene [that] tells of a serious composer of difficult, dissonant music (Adam Goldberg) who is resentful of his painter brother’s commercial success. But in time he too becomes the darling of his bro’s Chelsea gallery owner (Marley Shelton of Grindhouse)." Since reading that description, I've had the great fortune of viewing a pre-screening copy and I have to say, while Ewing's nutshell comment is 100% accurate, it doesn't quite document the levels of satirical brilliance and frequent moments of hilariousness that {Untitled} brings with it. Stated simply: anyone who is an artist, knows an artist, or fancies themselves an art enthusiast needs to check this film out.

Recently, Parker took some time to chat with me about {Untitled}, which screens Saturday and Sunday at the CIA Cinematheque. In the course of our conversation, we talked about everything from the way visual art might influence film making to how market realities might do the same thing, with a little conversation about his past work, his plan for the near future, and what Cleveland can do to make itself a more enticing place for film makers when they decide where to do their work.

1) One of the things critics have hailed about your film is its commentary about the art world. They uniformly find a negative theme, but I think there is also something tenderly appreciative. What is it you are trying to communicate with the film?

Part of it was that I wanted to get out there into the public from a reportage standpoint and say “Hey, here’s some of the stuff going on” in a world some people aren’t familiar with, but do so with a journalistic impulse. I wasn’t looking at it negatively, but objectively. I also wanted to make sure all of the characters were not con artists, but that they truly believed in what they were doing wholeheartedly. There may be people who find some work less good or have different taste, but I found it important to portray characters who firmly believe in what they do, rather than be seen as a joke or in on a con that people not in that world wouldn’t understand.

2) I recently read about your love for abstract expressionist art. How does that influence your film work?

You know, I don’t know if the kind of art that respond to has a direct connection to my work. I’m a big collage fan and I think there is some collage art influence in my work in terms of collaging together characters and scenes and ideas in a less conventional way than some hero’s journey narrative. But I’m not sure such a direct connection with abstract expressionism. There is such a different way of working involved there, in that they work rather quickly, while a film is time-consuming, painstaking, detail-oriented effort.

3) Was there any pushback with the idea of naming the film (Untitled)? I can see that causing serious marketing difficulties.

Goldwyn wasn’t that thrilled with the title and I was concerned there would be internet search issues, and that probably is a problem. Goldwyn wanted me to change it – they suggested No You Shut Up, but I felt that was too negative - and we’d had the title for some years by then, so we stuck with it. I guess we’ll see if that was a bad choice.

4) I remember reading "Bartleby the Scrivener" once for a undergraduate fiction course. I was sitting in this loud and busy café, trying to read the story, but the surroundings were to clattering and hectic to concentrate. I kept getting more frustrated, which bled into the way I read the story itself. To this day, that story is one of the three most memorable short stories I ever read. How did you decide to make it into a film?

I also read it in a writing class in college but I wasn’t thinking about it when I was looking for a movie to make. I came across the story by accident the second time, and when I did it struck me as having a lot of positive aspects for a small independent film. It is largely set in one location, so you could do it very inexpensively, and it also reminded me of where I worked at the time, my office, so I used that setting and it felt modern, personal, and contemporary to me.

5) What do you have planned for 2010?

I’m working on a new project. We probably won’t be shooting in 2010, but hopefully we’ll finish the script this year. It’s an interesting story about the 1849 gold rush in California. It’s going to be a period piece, with a lot of collage, and more stylized in a number of ways. Basically, it’ll be a comic version of There Will Be Blood.

6) The city of Cleveland has been making some noise about wanting to become a more film-friendly city. Beyond tax breaks, what would you advise city leaders to do?

Definitely the tax incentive is going be the biggest motivating factor for anybody. But because people may not be so familiar with the types of locations and scenery in the area, they (city leaders) have to get the word out. They should take some nice photographs of locations that are unique and inexpensive and send that information out. That’s the kind of thing filmmakers and producers are shopping around for. Making movies is very competitive and difficult to make money in, so people are always looking for unusual locations – not just urban but also rural – combined with final incentives. That’s the way to go.

7) Any memorable Cleveland experiences to share?

I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting Cleveland yet. We are doing a screening at Oberlin in the springtime, but so far I don’t have any good memories yet.

Oh man, you gotta visit. It’s a great town for memories.

I bet it is. I look forward to visiting some day.

will screen at the CIA Cinematheque (11141 East Boulevard, Cleveland) on Saturday, 1/23, at 7:10 PM and on Sunday, 1/24, at 8:55 PM.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

G-g-g-g-g-g-g-gotta Groove

How fitting is it for one of America's great industrial cities and the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to house the newest vinyl pressing plant in the nation?

Very fitting.

Vince Slusarz and company recently put out a brief 5 minute film talking about what it is the fellas at Gotta Groove are up to all day long in this rock factory. Check it out below.

By the way - it's remarkably well filmed!

Gotta Groove Records - "Groove With Us" from Nick Cavalier on Vimeo.

Making art happen in Cleveland

I feel a little bad for slagging one local artistic effort in my last concert review post, so let me atone by saluting another. R.A. 'Rafiq' Washington is a guy I've been hearing about since I moved to Cleveland, and though I've never met him, so many people that I like and respect mention him in universally positive ways that when I saw this article from the Plain Dealer today, it made me feel a little bit of that pride you get when one of your friends does well.

The central thrust of the piece is that Washington is starting a new DIY music label, Cleveland Tapes, which is cool enough on its own, but then it goes on to document all the different ways Washington is engaged in the arts scene in town. I've spent the last couple of years drawing attention where I could to all the different dimensions of that scene, but it wasn't really until today that I fully realized folks like Washington have been doing that for many years, and not just plugging, but doing the art.

We're lucky to have these folks - they open the underground venues and host the edgy events and take a loss on production operations so that some artists can do their thing in a world otherwise wickedly skewed by market dynamics and so many more enthusiasts can be exposed to creative genius outside of what the glossy, thick-stock art and design magazines show us.

Good work, Rafiq. If you ever read this, send me some of those albums to review.

Celluloid Bachelor #49: Ash "Space Shot"

Earlier this month, I posted they moving photo-based video for Ash's "Pripyat," the latest track in the Irish rockers' A-Z singles series. I have long had a passion for Russian history and culture, so it made a lot of sense to me that a band that combined rock and Chernobyl would capture my attention. But now they've gone and captured my heart.

Like any young man born in the 1970s (the late 1970s, but the 1970s nonetheless), I had a strong appreciation for the Star Wars franchise growing up. The frequently disgraceful follow-up prequel trilogy threatened to ween me of that love - surprisingly, it wasn't the atrocious Jar Jar Bings character I despised, but rather the cultural fraudulence of Hayden Christensen's "acting" that brought me low - but I withstood the assault and still consider myself a staunch supporter of the franchise.

Now, a half-decade since the release of Revenge of the Sith, I'm back to default visualizations of Darth Vader and the Death Star when I hear the phrase "Star Wars," rather than cringing at unwelcome images of Gungans and Toydarians (please note wikipedia has helped immensely with these species names; I'm not that big of a nerd). In other words, I like it when things remind me of the holiest of all film franchises, and when it is a well-executed rock video, well, I really like it.

Leave it to Ash, then, to make my day. Their newest addition to the A-Z series, released just yesterday, is a mod nod to George Lucas, is an admittedly overwrought bit of pop pap, but c'mon - it's fucking Star Wars-centric! Plus, between the Michael Jackson meets a slo-mo Britney Spears dancing storm-troopers and the hijab-sporting fighter pilot protaganist, there are plenty of references for readers younger than myself to grin about.

Celluloid Bachelor #48: OK Go "This Too Shall Pass"

This is pretty cool, so rather than put my own spin on it, I'm gonna let the fellas bring it straight to you.

To the people of the world, from OK Go:

This week we released a new album, and it’s our best yet. We also released a new video – the second for this record – for a song called This Too Shall Pass, and you can watch it here. We hope you'll like it and comment on it and pass the link along to your friends and do that wonderful thing that that you do when you’re fond of something, share it. We want you to stick it on your web page, post it on your wall, and embed it everywhere you can think of.

Unfortunately, as of now you can’t embed diddlycrap. And depending on where you are in the world, you might not even be able to watch it.

We’ve been flooded with complaints recently because our YouTube videos can't be embedded on websites, and in certain countries can't be seen at all. And we want you to know: we hear you, and we’re sorry. We wish there was something we could do. Believe us, we want you to pass our videos around more than you do, but, crazy as it may seem, it’s now far harder for bands to make videos accessible online than it was four years ago.

See, here’s the deal. The recordings and the videos we make are owned by a record label, EMI. The label fronts the money for us to make recordings – for this album they paid for us to spend a few months with one of the world’s best producers in a converted barn in Amish country wringing our souls and playing tympani and twiddling knobs – and they put up most of the cash that it takes to distribute and promote our albums, including the costs of pressing CDs, advertising, and making videos. We make our videos ourselves, and we keep them dirt cheap, but still, it all adds up, and it adds up to a great deal more than we have in our bank account, which is why we have a record label in the first place.

Fifteen years ago, when the terms of contracts like ours were dreamt up, a major label could record two cats fighting in a bag and three months later they'd have a hit. No more. People of the world, there has been a revolution. You no longer give a shit what major labels want you to listen to (good job, world!), and you no longer spend money actually buying the music you listen to (perhaps not so good job, world). So the money that used to flow through the music business has slowed to a trickle, and every label, large or small, is scrambling to catch every last drop. You can't blame them; they need new shoes, just like everybody else. And musicians need them to survive so we can use them as banks. Even bands like us who do most of our own promotion still need them to write checks every once in a while.

But where are they gonna find money if no one buys music? One target is radio stations (there's lots of articles out there. here's one: ). And another is our friend The Internutz. As you’ve no doubt noticed, sites like YouTube, MySpace, and run ads on copyrighted content. Back when Young MC's second album (the one that didn't have Bust A Move on it) could go Gold without a second thought, labels would’ve considered these sites primarily promotional partners like they did with MTV, but times have changed. The labels are hurting and they need every penny they can find, so they’ve demanded a piece of the action. They got all huffy a couple years ago and threatened all sorts of legal terror and eventually all four majors struck deals with YouTube which pay them tiny, tiny sums of money every time one of their videos gets played. Seems like a fair enough solution, right? YouTube gets to keep the content, and the labels get some income.

The catch: the software that pays out those tiny sums doesn’t pay if a video is embedded. This means our label doesn’t get their hard-won share of the pie if our video is played on your blog, so (surprise, surprise) they won’t let us be on your blog. And, voilá: four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist’s glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we’re – unbelievably – stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared. It’s like the world has gone backwards.

Let’s take a wider view for a second. What we’re really talking about here is the shift in the way we think about music. We’re stuck between two worlds: the world of ten years ago, where music was privately owned in discreet little chunks (CDs), and a new one that seems to be emerging, where music is universally publicly accessible. The thing is, only one of these worlds has a (somewhat) stable system in place for funding music and all of its associated nuts-and-bolts logistics, and, even if it were possible, none of us would willingly return to that world. Aside from the smug assholes who ran labels, who’d want a system where a handful of corporate overlords shove crap down our throats? All the same, if music is going to be more than a hobby, someone, literally, has to pay the piper. So we’ve got this ridiculous situation where the machinery of the old system is frantically trying to contort and reshape and rewire itself to run without actually selling music. It’s like a car trying to figure out how to run without gas, or a fish trying to learn to breath air.

So what’s there to do? On the macro level, well, who the hell knows? There are a lot of interesting ideas out there, but this is not the place to get into them. As for our specific roadblock with the video embedding, the obvious solution is for YouTube to work out its software so it allow labels to monetize their videos, wherever on the Internet or the globe they're being accessed. That'll surely happen before too long because there's plenty of money to be made, but it’s more complicated than it looks at first glance. Advertisers aren’t too keen on paying for ads when they don’t know where the ads will appear (“Dear users of, try Gerber’s new low-lactose formula!”), so there are a lot of hurdles to get over.

In the meantime, the only thing OK Go can do is to upload our videos to sites that allow for embedding, like MySpace and Vimeo. We do that already, but it stings a little. Not only does it cannibalize our own numbers (it tends to do our business more good to get 40 million hits on one site than 1 million hits on 40 sites), but, as you can imagine, we feel a lot of allegiance to the fine people at YouTube. They’ve been good to us, and what they want is what we want: lots of people to see our videos. When push comes to shove, however, we like our fans more, which is why you can take the code at the bottom of this email and embed the "This Too Shall Pass" video all over the Internet.

With or without this embedding problem, we'll never get 50 zillion views on a YouTube video again. That moment – the dawn of internet video – is gone. The internet isn’t as anarchic as it was then. Now there are Madison Avenue firms that specialize in “viral marketing” and the success of our videos is now taught in business school. But here's a secret: zillions of hits was never the point. We're a rock band, and it’s a great gig. Not just because we get to snort drugs off the Queen of England (we do), but because the only thing we are expected to do is make cool stuff. We chase our craziest ideas for a living, and if sharing those ideas takes 40 websites instead of one, it doesn’t make too big a difference to us.

So, for now, here's the bottom line: EMI won't let us let you embed our YouTube videos. It's a decision that bums us out. We've argued with them a lot about it, but we also understand why they're doing it. They’re aware that their rules make it harder for people to watch and share our videos, but, while our duty is to our music and our fans, theirs is to their shareholders, and they believe they’re doing the right thing.

Here’s the embed code for the Vimeo posting:

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

Go forth and put it everywhere, please. And buy our album. It’s great.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Show Review: 1/17 @ Beachland - The Rural Alberta Advantage & The Octagon @ Beachland Tavern

Well, folks, you did me proud. January's Cleveland Bachelor Show of the Month was the best attended concert since we started doing this series. I'm pretty sure the filled Tavern had more to do with the stellar out-of-town acts on the bill than anything I can claim credit for, but reality never stopped me from making boastful claims before, and it won't stop me this time, either.

There was an interesting vibe all evening, which I figure was the combination of the eerie fog that had set in across the city and the delicious lamb riblet dish I enjoyed before the show at the Grovewood. My pal Cookbook and I took our time with dinner, mostly because I wasn't keen on the band that I figured would be opening and didn't want to sit through the entire set. We ended up rolling in a little before 9:30, about when we figured the second band on the triple bill, NYC's The Octagon, would take the stage. I've been raving about The Octagon since first coming across their work when I saw they were the playing the show with headliners The Rural Alberta Advantage - they've got a great and delightfully sloppy post-punk edge that recalls pre-Dookie Green Day and a boatload of talent to boot, so I definitely didn't want to miss them.

When Cookbook and I walked in, the room was full of chatter and the stage was empty. Since shows on Sunday nights are often early and efficient in their pacing, I assumed we'd timed things just perfect, and when I saw Zack Mexico, The Octagon's frontman (who, swear to god, looks like a young Eddie Vedder in profile) go onstage and strap on his guitar, I just knew I was right. The band ripped into their set, leading off with "Clew Haywood" and "Suicide Kings," two of the strongest tracks on their completely hype-worthy recent record, Warm Love and Cool Dreams Forever. (Check out my review of the album here.)

40 minutes or so later, the band took leave of the stage, with a final thank you to the crowd that sets by The Buried Wires and The Rural Alberta Advantage were still to come. "What?" I thought to myself - I thought we missed the openers. Guess not. In fact, I know we didn't, because we were then treated to a 45 minute set of the most boring indie rock I've heard in forever. Seriously, a friend leaned over during the set and asked if I thought the band ever fell asleep during practice, they were so dull. I hate to talk shit about folks in Cleveland doing their art, but I also don't want to be the person who says everything is great just because the creator of said art has a phone number that likely starts with a 216 area code. This was the third time I've seen this particular bad play out, and every time I've felt like sticking my head in a bucket of ice. I just don't get what the deal is with this group, particularly considering they keep getting choice opening slots for the kinds of band names that get bold-face treatment on Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, and that e-cohort. Oh well. At least I can say that the band has a pretty good drummer and bass player, so if anyone in Cleveland fancies themselves a front man or woman needing a rhythm section, you may want to direct your poaching energies thataway.

Luckily for me, the Beachland has a mighty fine vintage store in the basement, and after I'd stood as much of the middle band as I could, I ventured down there, where I proceeded to start jawboning with the legendary Dave P and Zack Mexico, The Octagon's guitarist and vocalist (and author of this pretty damn cool book). We chatted about all sorts of shit, but we were on to gourmet ice cream by the time a couple of gals walked down the stairs. Strangely, the room fell quiet at that exact moment, and one of the girls said, "Well hello boys - what are you up to?" to the gang of dudes in the room. When Dave replied, "Oh, talking about ice cream and bookstores," she seemed unconvinced. I can't really blame her.

A couple moments later, I heard the chattery echoes upstairs subside and a few chords from Nils Edenloff's guitar run through the sound system. Beckoned by the sound, I returned to the Tavern, and dug my way through a solid set of songs from the Toronto trio. I've really come to love the work that The Rural Alberta Advantage has been doing, and between their performance, the dynamic set by The Octagon, the aforementioned riblets, and the joy of seeing a bunch of good friends at different parts of the evening, I went home a happy camper.

The fact that I entered my apartment to a sleepy beagle, a brazen puggle, and an addictive scent wafting out of my pulled pork-filled slow cooker didn't hurt, either.

Proper Noun of the Week #27: Jonah Jacobs

As we make our way to the biggest weekend of gallery openings in Cleveland so far this year (and decade!), I'm increasingly getting the feeling that 2010 is going to be a banner year for the Cleveland art world. There is great energy and vigor at work here, under the surface and in the galleries and co-ops and repurposed industrial lofts across the city. I'm looking for big things from some of the folks I already know and am excited for the future of those folks I haven't yet had the fortune to cross paths with.

Jonah Jacobs is one of the folks in the second category I have a good feeling about - his work is strong, concise, and persuasive. He creates stirring art from unconventional and found objects, attempting to alter ordinary consumables and use them to meld insightful and incisive ecological and organic commentary with a high-color collage aesthetic. As William Rupnik, curator of Jacobs's upcoming exhibit at Rupnik Gallery,notes, "while not his intent to create pieces that are exact representations of biological structures, Jonah's artwork is a paradigm of an advancing species, with each new piece cultivating a new habitation."

Jonah recently took the time to conduct this interview with me as he prepared for the show. His answers - including possibly the best birthday fantasy ever - are below and well worth the read.

1) How long have you been in Cleveland?

All of my life with the exception of a few years for college and about four years in the Army. So I'd say close to thirty years.

And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?

I grew up in Cleveland but I was born in Denmark.

2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?

Trying to float a post-Halloween pumpkin down a creek with a lit candle in it, giving up, and then lying on the bank of the creek staring up at the stars with my girlfriend.

3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?

I love our park system. Sometimes I go for long walks and just observe nature. I am kind of obsessed with the minutiae and structural qualities of nature. I also draw inspiration from the dilapidation all around us here in Cleveland. I long to transform space, and Cleveland has a lot of space which obviously needs to be transformed. Rust is a perfect metaphor is some ways. Rust is also something I have often tried to mimic in my art. Rust is one of nature's ways of transforming (albeit slowly) what is not being used. Humans and nature are always battling one another for permanence and decay, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Cleveland's crumbling infrastructure. My art also retains this tension, for since I use reclaimed materials to create organic looking structures -- my art inherently is a struggle, and I hope a balance, between decay, reclamation, and permanence.

4) If it was your birthday and you decided to have a Cleveland-centric blow-out bash, how would you celebrate? That is, what would you do, where would you do it, etc.?

I don't usually have big bashes on my birthday, but if I could I think I would enlist a mad scientist to make giant robot sized versions of Superhost and Dorothy Fuldheim and then have them duke it out in the warehouse district. Whoever wins could then have the honor of being mayor of Cleveland as well as free dinners for a year from Sokolowski's.

5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?

The contraceptive museum -- it's a hidden oddity that's interesting and sure to make any guest feel slighty uncomfortable. Which I think is the way all visitors should feel while here.

6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?


7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?

Stop investing in "big" projects and instead invest more in an assortment of smaller projects like the Gordon Square Arts District.

To meet Jonah and check out his work yourself, stop by the William Rupnik Gallery this Friday for the opening of his solo show, "Fragmentation: Seed, Spore and Polyp." The gallery is located at 1667 E 40th Street in Cleveland. Check out the gallery's website here.

And if you found this post interesting, check out previous Proper Noun of the Week conversations about Cleveland and culture with the following interesting folks: Frank Revy, Bill Rupnik, Mina Hoyle, Brendan Walton, Leia Alligator, Arabella Proffer, Becca Riker, Greg Ruffing, Mallorie Freeman, Dave Desimone, J.R. Bennett, Jeff & Mike from CLE Clothing Co, Paulius Nasvytis, Lawrence Daniel Caswell, Curtis Thompson, John Ewing, Shannon Okey, John G, Sean Bilovecky, Dana Depew, Fred Wright, Amanda Montague, Ryan Weitzel, Garrett Komyati, and Vince Slusarz.

CB Q/A #28: Shilpa Ray

I caught up with Shilpa Ray a little while ago, shortly before she departed on the tour that, after stops in Buffalo and Chicago, brings her to Cleveland on Wednesday to rock the Beachland Ballroom. The singer-songwriter, who reminds me of a more rustic and deeper Thao Nguyen and who has been called by others the Janis Joplin of indie rock, was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with me about her art, her plans for the year, her New York background, and her favorite music.

1) What have you been listening to lately? Any different from what influenced you on your debut?

Lately – a lot of stuff. I really got into Rodriguez this year. I listened to a lot of old punk, and a lot of stuff that would not be considered punk of that era –stuff that sounds like punk but isn’t it politically. I listened to The Vibrators a lot, and a band called Toy Love from New Zealand from the late 70s early 80s. Pretty much everything I’ve been listening to lately comes from either that era or a lot of 50s rockabilly. All of it has been very song-oriented stuff.

When I was doing the album, though, I was listening to a lot of reggae and blues. I was really into The Oblivions and Compulsive Gamblers – not that we captured any of that kind of sound on the record. Also, I was listening to a lot of The Gun Club, especially when I wrote “Woman Sets Boyfriend On Fire.”

2) What’s the plan for 2010?

I want to make another record. We just started making a new one, hopefully it will come out this year. I really want to travel. We’ve been going on short tours, but I’m starting to feel pretty stagnant. I want to perform more, and get out more often and for longer across the country. I want to make 2010 the time I live an adventure.

3) One of the things I often wonder about is how a band’s community shaped their development. How has your scene, such as it may be, influenced your art?

You know, music is incredibly regional. For example, I stumbled into the anti-folk scene in New York. The first time I played my own stuff out, it was at the Sidewalk Café (the home venue of artists Jeffrey Lewis and The Moldy Peaches). That helped me form friendships with different kinds of people. When I think back, most singer-songwriter friends I have from there and from that time are inspired by blues and folk of a certain era. That music deeply inspires me, too, but so do other things. Generally, I’m not heavily involved in scenes – not a part of the action in a general way. Instead, I’ve been more about milling around and exploring things on my own. But in song structures and developing art I definitely benefited from watching my peers doing it so much better than I was at the time. I watched them and learned from them when I was making my own music.

4) What do you want live audience coming away with?

When I’m writing and thinking about my own life in general, I always feel weird about being a very intense person. You can’t always behave that way outwardly – you have to be a grown up some times – but I always have that question “are you feeling what I’m feeling right now or am I fucking crazy.” I think it is really important to make sure you can feel what another person feels, and when I’m performing, I really want my audience to feel the same thing I’m feeling, when I’m up there feeling it.

5) If a little fairy came to you and granted you a birthday wish allowing you to headline a show with any bill you wanted, who would be on it?

You know who would really be cool to sing with? Howlin’ Wolf. That would be amazing. But we’d have to open for him, no way I could have him open for us.

I didn’t live through that time, so I have no idea what it would feel like to be in the same room with those people doing their thing. That music is so raw and instinctual, not charted and perfected, yet the old music sounded and felt so right. I think that visceral edge is missing today. A lot of music we listen to now is very produced, with this Radiohead/Grizzly Bear perfectionist feel to it, but the stuff those guys were doing was not. I mean, think about how they probably made those records. They were probably recording with a room mic, and when the played live, they had to go off what the room felt like, not based on the sound in their monitors or with the help of a fancy sound system. I’d love to play with them, just like how they used to, and learn how they did that.

And, of course there is always the fantasy to play with all your friends bands in a fun, remote place with no rules and where you can do whatever weird and crazy stuff you want. That would be great.

6) What do you think about playing covers? Any songs/artists you’d love to cover down the road?

We play a lot of covers. I love playing covers. It is a really fun and challenging way to change up your own way of arranging things. Also helps to learn other peoples chord changes. Maybe try a key or chord composition in your own work.

Last summer, I had this awesome opportunity to play with the Steve Bernstein Orchestra, and we did a Sly Stone tribute night at Castle Clinton. “You Can Make It If You Try” is in F-sharp major – I’d never played in that key before, but an hour after the show, I was making my own song in that same scale. I still play that song out a bit and while it sounds nothing like a Sly song – mine is totally slow and droning - but it works.

7) Do you have any memorable Cleveland experiences you can share?

Last time we played the Beachland we had a great time, a lot of fun. It was actually the first time I’d ever been to Cleveland. We got there really early, and when the rest of my bandmates went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I went to sleep. When I woke up, all these people were already there, so I got ready and then got tanked, and we eventually went on and had a great show. Later, we stayed stayed at one my friend’s (This Moment In Black History’s Chris Kulcsar) mom’s house. He’s in this really heavy, totally rock and roll band, but his mom’s house had all these cats, lots and lots of porcelain cats. It was wild.

To meet Shilpa and the rest of her Happy Hookers, be sure to hit the Beachland on Wednesday night. Tickets are only $7, doors open at 8:30, and opening acts Chief Bromide and The Formula do their thing beginning at 9.

Celluloid Bachelor #47: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Public Words

Powerful parting words from the most important man of the American 20th Century, and one of the most important since the founding of the republic. Watch the perfect delivery, the impassioned righteousness, the exhaustion as he makes his way back to his chair, where his colleagues and friends help him sit as he collapses.

The next day, a sniper's bullet took him down.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The week ahead: 1/17-1/23: Halfway through what is usually the worst month of winter edition

Can you believe how decent the weather has been so far this winter? I mean, there have been a few sorta cold days, though nothing in single digits, and some snow, but nothing debilitating. Knock on virtual wood, this stays the case, but here we are only 84 days till the official CB end of winter (i.e., the Indians home opener) and so far things have been stable.

To be honest, though, that isn't to stay that I haven't fallen victim to the Cleveland winter hermit curse. I've played lame plenty of times already and am starting to feel guilty about it. So, to turn the tide a bit, I'm gonna try to start getting out there a little more. Here's my guide to the next week, in case you are thinking the same thing.

Monday, 1/18 - Today's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Spend a moment thinking about the man I argue was the single best representation of American values in the 20th century. In honor of the day, many museums around town will be opening their doors for free, including places with ordinarily pricey entrance fees like the Rock Hall. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, 1/19 - tba

Wednesday, 1/20 - Two exciting events tonight, and both go down at my favorite place on Earth, the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. In the Ballroom, prepare for one of the bawdiest artistic events to hit the city so far this year, the Dr. Sketchy's B-Movie Bash, the latest installment in the much-loved cabaret and live drawing spectacular, this time featuring model Lucy Dominga.

On the Tavern side, you'll be treated to the musical whimsy of New York's Shilpa Ray. Shilpa made her first visit to Cleveland in 2009 and left the folks at the Beachland impressed and hungry for more. I did a phone interview with her a few days ago, which I'll post soon, and I too was bowled over by her thoughtfulness and charm, not to mention her soulful music. This is a must-see event.

Thursday, 1/21 - Catch a great double feature tonight at the CIA Cinematheque. Start out at 6:30 PM with the documentary Act of God (from the same person who made the celebrated film Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal), which uses interviews with people who have survived lightning strikes as a springboard to a consideration of accidents, chance, fate, and our collective quest to make sense out of tragedy. Novelist Paul Auster and musician Fred Frith are among those interviewed.

Then, stick around for one of the films in this month's Terrence Malick series, 1998's The Thin Red Line. The brilliant director's third feature, made after a 20-year hiatus, is a great war movie based on James Jones’ novel about U.S. troops fighting on Guadalcanal during WWII. As serene and meditative as it is noisy and visceral, the film serves up a world cohabited by dualities—good and evil, beauty and horror, past and present, life and death—and populated by soldiers trying to understand and reconcile them. The result is a dreamy, philosophical drama—a prayer almost—that is at once sublimely beautiful and emotionally shattering. The large all-star cast includes Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, George Clooney, and John Travolta. For more information about these films and other excellent selections playing this month, check out my January month in film post here.

Friday, 1/22 - This page on my social calendar has been over-stuffed for months. Not only do we have a CSU basketball game against UW-Green Bay and terrific openings featuring the work of Jonah Jacobs at William Rupnik Gallery, Jacob Wesley Lang at Low Life Gallery, and several different artists at Wall-Eye Gallery, there are also a trio of shows so good you'd be hard-pressed to choose between any of them. First, girl-group super icon Ronnie Spector is playing at the Beachland (with opening assistance from Afternoon Naps), Low-frontman Alan Sparhawk brings his side project, Retribution Gospel Choir, to the Grog Shop, and a killer heavy punk show (Fear of a Black Planet 2) featuring This Moment in Black History and a handful of other bands will occupy Now That's Class. You can't go wrong, so I leave it to you to decide how best to go right.
Saturday, 1/23 - Two really good options, both Cleveland-centric, and both within a stone's throw of one another. For the indie rocker in you, check out The Modern Electric & Simeon Soul Charger at the Grog Shop and feast your eyes and ears on two of the most promising, up-and-coming bands on the scene. For the classy types, check out the Western Reserve Historical Society's 1920s-themed speakeasy event. One of the less visible cultural gems of the community, WRHS is putting on one of those great fundraisers where you can do some good and also have a blast in a new and unique way with this event, which will feature an open bar, costume competition, and period-appropriate vintage cars from the museum's vaunted collection. Check out more information here.

Other stuff to keep your eye on the following week:
- I Rock Bill DJs the Beachland Brunch
- 1/24 - CSU basketball vs Milwaukee
- 1/24 - Triple Feature at CIA Cinematheque: In a Lonely Place; Afterschool; {Untitled}
- 1/26 - Indie Orthodox New Year Celebration @ Music Saves
- 1/30 - The Antlers @ Akron Musica
- 1/30 - Ali-Fest @ The Town Fryer
- 1/30 - CSU basketball vs Youngstown State