In addition to Girl in a Coma, another San Antonio trio played Brooklyn this past week: Pop Pistol, who made their NYC debut at Trash Bar on Tuesday September 28. The band consists of guitarist and vocalist Alex Scheel, bassist George Garza, and drummer Jorge Gonzalez. All three contribute either synths or samples to the studio recordings, a sound that’s replicated live by a backing track. Say what you will about using pre-recorded playback; it works for Pop Pistol by adding a sort of surprise to their onstage appearance. “Where’s the keyboard?” is a question that onlookers commonly ask, as the band generates sonic layers richer than their three-piece composition would lead one to expect.
Frontman Scheel sings with his eyes closed. After the show, he explains that, during the set he imagined the Brooklyn Bridge and other famous New York landmarks that he and his bandmates — all in their mid-twenties — had seen that day for the first time. ”To me, New York is like the only city in the world,” Scheel says. “Being here is like killing a fantasy.”
What is it about New York — about music in New York — that from the outside gleams like a city on a hill, yet on the inside hungers for new things from elsewhere? Here bands are a dime a dozen. Indie music-philes pride themselves in knowing where a non-NY band is from — and the more obscure the place of origin, the better. (For example, the fact that thrash maestros Lazarus A.D. hail from Kenosha, Wisconsin, makes them seem all the more special when they blow away the veteran German headliners at the Nokia/Best Buy Theater in Times Square.) Ironically, though, for musicians who live in other cities, being a big fish in a small pond only seems good enough if eventually New York notices you. Getting to New York is hard, but getting New York’s attention can be harder — even if you already live here.
Scheel likens being in New York to “killing a fantasy,” but really there’s a mystique to wherever one is not at the time or hasn’t been. And so I wrap up San Antonio Week in Brooklyn with this: Pop Pistol and Girl in a Coma — thank you for visiting. Rock on, and know that this niche of New York knows who you are.
As I write this, the Texas trio Girl in a Coma are playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg. But, when I spoke to bassist Jenn Alva yesterday, the band was still on the road and had recently been pulled over by a border patrolman about twelve miles outside of Mobile, Alabama. “He said that he had stopped us because we had a lot of luggage and Texas plates,” Alva says. If only the patrolman could see them now at their sold out show in Brooklyn…
Besides staying busy with their current tour (which includes opening for The Dresden Dolls in Texas in November), GIAC will release on October 19 their third album, Adventures in Coverland, a collection of—you guessed it—cover songs. (Lest you think the band is taking a breather from songwriting, know that guitarist Nina Diaz has already written about twenty new songs for another studio album, planned for release in spring 2011.) Alva explains that, with the exception of one new song and an acoustic version of a track off their previous record, Coverland is a tribute to artists whose music has influenced GIAC.
OH: How did you choose the cover songs for the new album?
JA: Each of us made a list of about ten to fifteen songs by different artists that we wanted to cover, and Nina looked at all of them. [The selection process] was about if we could do it, if we could pull it off. Because we’re not just dealing with fans of our band. If you do a cover, you’re dealing with fans of The Beatles and Patsy Cline. So, we really had to make sure that we were able to pull it off. We’re happy with our choices.
How did you incorporate your own style into the songs so that they sound different from the original versions?
You want to put your own touch on it. You want it to be a Girl in a Coma song, almost. It started with Nina rearranging the song, and then Phanie and I came in. Some of those original bass lines I didn’t even pay much attention to. I wanted to kind of rewrite the bass line so that it would be kind of like a new song altogether. For example, the Selena song—that’s a completely new bass line. Patsy Cline—that’s a new bass line. And then some of them, you don’t want to drift off too far with changing it, especially doing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” because it’s already so great—not that the other songs are not or that they needed changing. It’s just one of those things with the Beatles.
Of the artists the band chose to cover, which ones had the most influence on you personally?
I love Patsy Cline. I love all oldies and rockabilly. So, Patsy Cline, Ritchie Valens—those were a pleasure to do.
It was at SXSW. He’s good friends with our buddy David Garza, and David was talking about us. [Robert] wanted to come check us out; he did, and he really liked our music. He did some filming during SXSW and kind of threw it together and asked, “Hey, do you want this? I put it to ‘As the World Falls Down’,” and of course we said “Yes!” There was a lot of common ground, with being from San Antonio and all.
It seems that the success of GIAC has drawn some attention to San Antonio and to the music scene there. Would you agree?
I hope so. This is another reason that keeps us going. You want to put your city on the map. You want it to be known that there’s great art, great music, and great people. We’re very proud of San Antonio.
Want to catch GIAC live? Check out their upcoming shows on their facebook page.
Original Hipster declares this San Antonio Week in Brooklyn! Why? Because last night, SA band Pop Pistol played Trash Bar, and on Saturday, SA superstars Girl in a Coma play the Music Hall of Williamsburg (and their show is sold out!).
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Pop Pistol — including the reason why lead singer and guitarist Alex Scheel sings with his eyes closed — and on GIAC, whose bassist Jenn Alva I’ll be talking with on Friday.
Yesterday my friend Linda declared it “SAN ANTONIO WEEK IN BROOKLYN” and I figured that I really had to step it up. So I stole my roommate’s car and drove down into the subway screaming “S.A. IN THE B.K.!” and parked it on the track but no ghost children moved it and then the F train came and it turned into a big thing. Tomorrow I re-enact the Alamo down at Rockefeller center.
Lucky 13 Saloon is always a sure bet for a great time. The jukebox and occasional DJ play the best of metal, both old and new. The walls and ceilings are plastered with band posters. The beer is $2. And the dancers never disappoint.
Last night was no exception — and even exceeded my expectations. The reason: Japanese pole dancer and horror film star Cay Izumi. Go-go-ers Kayce GoGo and Remy Viscious (of Coney Island fame) were terrific, too (I was particularly envious of Kayce’s absolutely perfect derriere). But Izumi, who says she’s been dancing for ten years, took the cake.
Cay’s work on the pole is so intense that she can only sustain it for one or two songs at a time. We’re talking Olympic-strength athleticism, here. For the first third or so of her performances, she seduces the crowd with some provocative moves close to the ground — er, bar. Then she shimmies up the pole and stays there for the rest of the song. Executing trick after impossible trick, upside-down, sideways, and everything in between, she whips around so fast that people back away from the range of her heels. She actually gets very few tips while dancing because she’s at the ceiling and out of reach most of the time, and people seem either afraid to risk getting impaled by a stiletto or reluctant to interrupt her electrifying routine.
Erstwhile, on the TV screens in the corners of the bar, Japanese slasher flicks featured Izumi and other actresses covered in blood, dying ridiculously unfortunate deaths. (See Izumi’s film history here.) The plots are absurd, but the photography has some gorgeous moments even amongst the gore. And the borderline soft-core, girl-on-girl scenes have a sort of cheesy appeal, if you’re into that sort of thing. Most of the guys in the crowd seemed to be.
The funny thing about Izumi is that when she climbs down off the bar after her fierce routines, she’s cute as can be and a total sweetheart. Completely the opposite of the lethal sexpot who moments ago looked about as dangerous as the female killers in the films playing in the background. With the people who are only now able to get close enough to shower her with cash, she chats, sometimes with the help of a translator, and explains that she’s new to New York. She’s on a sort of tour with the gothic lolita performance troupe Tokyo Dolores, and she’s got some solo gigs coming up, too. Here’s the schedule. I highly recommend checking out the shows.
First, I have to apologize for the belatedness of this post. Life happens, blogs get neglected, etc.
Openers Gamble House hail from Los Angeles. Throwing self-censorship to the wayside, I’ll describe their music as your standard aesthetically inoffensive indie rock, which nowadays is another way of saying easy-listening music for 20-somethings. Still, I appreciate the fact that all band members were wearing relatively loose-fitting jeans. It’s nice to see guitar-wielding young men who don’t look like they’ve tried to squeeze into their girlfriends’ pants.
According to their bio, Gamble House seems to be a vehicle for lead singer Ben Becker, who began writing the band’s songs while he was still living in Brooklyn (a fact that also seems to explain why this California band has that all-too-common “Williamsburg sound” of sensitivity mixed with pop songs played by a four-piece). I heard a bit of a Beatles influence in their tunes, and I do have to give significant props to the smoothness of Becker’s and guitarist Ben Cassorla’s almost-falsetto harmonies. Their voices blend well, producing a less-fey-sounding Wild Beasts effect.
Shortwave Society, from Knoxville, TN, couldn’t have been more different from the opening act. Other than brass horns, there is hardly a type instrument that the five band members don’t play. Simultaneously, they employ a cello, an acoustic guitar, a synth keyboard, a violin, a laptop, drums, and an amped and distorted old telephone receiver. There’s also a xylophone, an electric guitar, and vocals. And on Friday night, the whole shebang ended with a segway into “Science Fiction Double Feature”–the closing credits version–from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, I’m all in favor of avant-garde music. It can be thrilling to hear unexpected combinations of instruments, styles, or techniques come together in a way that challenges the listener and stretches the boundaries of what we normally consider to be music. However, making the avant-garde or the experimental make sense is not an easy thing to do–not that sense is a requirement; it is, however, a means of helping the listener understand the musical ideas behind a song.
My point is that, with so much happening in their music at once, Shortwave Society have taken on the hugely complicated task of attempting to organize all of these sounds, all of these dissonant notes, all of these individual parts into a cohesive whole. And, for me, the myriad parts never quite…gel. While there is structure to each song, the motifs change so quixotically that the mind never gets to relax into a groove. Often, I couldn’t figure out why the individual players’ lines of music were happening, except that there was, for example, a cello onstage, so it might as well be made use of during the entire song. Although the band members appear to be listening to each other, the separate parts played by each musician frequently sound as though they have nothing to do with what anyone else is playing. I don’t mean that there are occasional clashing moments like those that occur in jazz improvisation; I mean that it sounds like someone determined the key of the song, outlined the structure, and handed each person a metronome set to the same tempo; then everyone went into separate, sound-proofed rooms and came up with their respective parts.
I hate to be excessively critical of a band that’s new on the scene, but I feel that the obviously high technical skill level of the members of Shortwave Society merits my respect in the form of an honest response, with my reasons for not entirely “getting” what they’re about articulated to the best of my ability. I have nothing but high praise for the band’s dexterity–especially that of violinist Sarah Hurd and cellist Alexia Pantanizopoulos, the latter performing with a gusto that is wonderful to watch. Maybe my ear lacks the sophistication required to fully understand their music. Or maybe “not understanding” is exactly their point. I have no idea. To me, that indicates that, despite the prowess, passion, and intelligence of the players, the thrust of the music remains unclear.
…Stay tuned for my recap of Adam Matta‘s performance…
Update 9/7/10: Please see Original Hipster’s interview with Adam Matta in lieu of part 2 of this blog post.
It’s been a long time since an album has been so strong and so as-of-yet unknown that I am inspired to write about it. But such a record has recently impressed me to the extent that I can’t help but review it in detail.
The album is The Plastic Masquerade, by New York-based singer/songwriter/performance artist/musician Minq Vaadka. On this debut, Vaadka (a.k.a. Adam Cochran) mixes impishness and theatricality in a fresh punk/cabaret blend, the likes of which have been missing from that semi-underground scene for far too long (now that Amanda Palmer‘s traded her angst for a ho-hum solo album and an engagement to Neil Gaiman). But, rather than coming across as the next generation of would-be Dresden Dolls, Vaadka is fully original, a bright-pink-paint-besplattered mess of talent.
Distinguishing himself from his cabaret-rock predecessors, Vaadka throws hip-hop influences into his peculiar musical concoction. In “Glitzkrieg,” he chants spoken lyrics over guitar riffs set to three-quarter time. He seems to eschew the understated hipster culture in favor of something more unabashedly flamboyant: “We’re drowning the beggars, the poor bourgeoisie,” he proclaims, “Isn’t it rich to be free?”
The songs both satirize and embrace affectation. In “I Am A Fake,” the first verse describes a woman whose “lips are rubber cement, her breasts of made of jelly, and her belly has been flattened with an iron,” only to reveal that this “perfect” creature is a transvestite; Vaadka then asks, “So why is it that this fake’s more real than you?” This sort of double-flipping of cliches, coupled with unexpected combinations of musical styles, creates delightful surprises for the listener. If there’s a theme to the album, it’s a brash creed of being authentically oneself; paradoxically, everything about Vaadka–from the fake name to the swaggering bravado–registers as completely genuine.
With a voice that could belt a Broadway tune as easily as it fronts a rock band, Vaadka sings like the queer lovechild of Billie Joe Armstrong and Justin Bond. He could have leaped from the cast of “American Idiot” into the Galapagos Art Space, where he and director Sanaz Ghajarrahimi collaborated earlier this year on the performance piece “Orpheus and The Plastic Masquerade.” Ironically, on the album Vaadka laments, “The theatre is dead, and art will soon follow.” But as long as he’s around, we don’t have to worry about that.
Download The Plastic Masquerade on Minq Vaadka’s official site. Get it for free or pay-what-you-wish. I recommend the latter.
Listening to the new Slash album. It pretty much rocks, in a better-than-mainstream-but-still-mainstream kind of way.
Been doing PR for a band that’s about to release a new album. More info on this to come once it gets closer to the big date. I also might be playing keyboards and doing backup vocals for the band, depending on how rehearsals go. We’ll see.
Drinking Brooklyn Lager in Brooklyn. It’s finally happened: I’ve switched from wine to beer because I can’t afford wine (except for the $3.99 Trader Joe’s bottles). Plus wine always gets me way too drunk too quickly. So beer is the slower way to go. Usually I’m too freakin’ full after a couple beers to drink anymore. So everybody wins–my liver, my brain, my wallet…
I still don’t have a full-time job. I’m on food stamps. And can I just say, God bless food stamps. Only downside is that you can’t buy essential things like toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap with them. I guess that’s what Welfare is for, but I’m not on Welfare.
Other upcoming things to be aware of: New Rufus Wainwright album scheduled for April 20 release. (That’s my half-birthday.) Holy Grail plays Irving Plaza (which I guess means The Fillmore?) Sunday 4/25.
Scandalous news: Killola and Bitch were supposed to perform a concert last night in Lincoln, NE, at some place called The Grove, but the club owner thought Killola’s poster was too offensive and cancelled the show.
That’s all for now, folks. Stick with me, and you’ll hear about all the cool things I can’t afford to do.
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