Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do You Have A Car - Riley Pinkerton

It's a statement, not a question, though it appears as a question disguised as a statement.  Do You Have A Car.  Without the defining punctuation of a question mark or exclamation point, it could be either.  The ambiguity in the title of Riley Pinkerton's new five song EP hints at the labyrinthian depths  explored in her songs. I also interpret it to ask/demand of the listener whether they're equipped with the necessary aesthetic vehicle to follow where the music will take you. This offering sounds like pages from a diary of artistic experimentation expanded through the eyes and understanding of an apprentice seer finding her vision; a folk musician ascending, like a young Joni Mitchell, but with her own voice and musical sensibility.  Do You Have A Car became a catch-phrase as part of the events surrounding Riley's decision to become a solo artist and move from Michigan to New York City.  A major change, a big transition, a death from an old life into a new that bore intriguing musical fruit along the way - hauntingly evocative folk songs that reach deep inside exposing the pain and mysteries of life.  She explains further in a short interview I did with her below.  Riley was formerly a member of the DeCamp Sisters whose EP, Quick, Efficient and Deadly, I wrote about here.


 
The songs on DYHAC seem a little deceptive at first because the presentation is sparse yet the songs take on mythic proportions the more you listen, sink into and connect with the archetypal spaces this music accesses.  It's not a bad idea to read the lyrics while listening to get full immersion into the space.  The EP's production is quite different and interesting sounding like it was recorded in Notre Dame Cathedral or some other huge church space.  It creates a dreamy, otherwordly atmosphere that seems appropos of the subject matter.  Sometimes the thick ambience creates a fog for the attentive listener to penetrate and dig in which only adds to the mysterious quality.  I get the feeling of Sherlock Holmes looking for clues in the street on a foggy London evening.  One gets the same sense of forboding, unseen evil lurking in the background in the third song, In His Image.

Go  here. to buy or listen to it.  Head to the website to see the DYHAC lyrics.

The first song, Marina, is one of the best songs about the oceanic depths of Woman I've ever heard.  It also expresses how dangerous that can be if the humans diving into it are unable to swim in those depths.  It's aligned with the doctrine that even well-intentioned male energy is disruptive and destructive in higher (oceanic) spaces - " He had not meant to hurt her. Of this, oh, she was sure." she sings at the end.  The name Marina is brilliant for the protagonist as it conjures both the sea, the female and of something getting marred.  It's a song that both invokes an archetypal, nonhuman space, and warns of the danger of plunging to quickly into it.

The second track, Frankenstein, takes a personal and empathic point of view of one of the more relevant myths of modern times, the creation of the  √úbermensch, the Overman or Beyond-Man as it's been translated. Pinkerton reveals that she isn't simply using Mary Shelley's gothic tale as a jumping off point, but is connecting to the deeper myth in the story with the lyric: "Oh modern Prometheus, Unbreakable, Unbreakable, and better made than me."  Anyone on any kind of transformational path - artistic, spiritual, or what have you, can relate to the personal turbulence and alienation of trying to stay true and change into the ideal being aimed for, whatever that may be.  Pinkerton succinctly expresses these emotions in Frankenstein.

In His Image, is a powerful, defiant song of liberation from pain and oppression, but not without ambiguous feelings.  The title puts a sharp, perhaps critical, twist on the biblical passage, "God made man in his image," though it also points to the identification of the macrocosm (God) with the microcosm (man).  Looked at in this way, in archetypal fashion, the song goes beyond one individual scenario.  It becomes a statement about the current world situation.  It becomes every woman's voice defiantly saying no to the insanity and pain created by Brute World male animal diseases like war, anger, and oppression.

We're All Wild shows us different kinds of wildness from the fine and fair lady in her garden to the worm in the dirt with other wild things in between.  It's told with the lyrical imagery of an adult fairy tale and contains as much useful information as any classic fairy tale or fable. The melody draws you in.

The Queen's Brigade continues in the allegorical fairy tale style of imagery, but with the confrontational edge of a Bob Dylan song from a distinctly female point of the view.  And not just any woman - The Queen - who reminds me in this song of a contemporary form of Edmund Spenser's The Fairy Queene, the epic 16th Century prose poem.that influenced Shakespeare and Crowley among many others, including, on an intuitive level at least, Riley Pinkerton.

These songs are mythic poetic sketches - hierophantic; an education for the heart both pro and con, good and bad. Guides for teaching the spirit coalescing into Essence.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger especially if you can sing about it.  The connecting thread is Riley's voice.  It's unique, I find it hard to describe - pure, strong and emotive with the intensity of a young Joan Baez, yet different.  Her voice communicates much more than words she's singing.


Riley graciously and candidly answered a few questions I posed about her new EP and future recording plans:

1. What inspired the title Do You Have A Car?

I had a car: The Rat Mobile. A 97’ Honda Accord, which essentially blew up on the side of I-75 in Auburn Hills, MI, a few months before my move to NYC and leading up to my transition into becoming a solo artist. Living where I did in Michigan meant I was borrowing cars and asking for rides regularly up until my move to a city where having a car would end up a major inconvenience. So, the question "Do you have a car?" became a running joke between myself and friends and family. The question mark was then dropped as if to suggest that it was more of a demand than a question, and the phrase ended up being used in social situations with a connotation of "I want to get out of here." Over time it transitioned into the acronym "DYHAC," which appears on the back cover of the CD and is stamped on the CD itself. It felt appropriate to title my debut EP after what had developed into a sort of "catch-phrase" and give a nod to an event that marked the start of a very transitional time in my life.


2. What are some of your musical influences?  Your melodies sound like you might be familiar with traditional Irish or English folk ballads?

My very first musical love was The Beatles; that's what I was raised with and it's the foundation of my influences. I have strong childhood memories of listening to Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers on a pretty regular rotation with my mother. In my teens I found myself drawn to music by Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beck, Nirvana, and Jeff Buckley. Later on I was introduced to the music of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and then somehow stumbled into a Black Sabbath phase along the way. In regards to your second question: I’ve never felt as though the music I listen to has managed to make itself very influentially apparent within my own songwriting; perhaps I have enough Irish blood in me that it’s filtered out elements of traditional folk ballads in what I listen to and into my melodies. Ha!


3.  You recently moved from Michigan to New York City.  How has that affected your musical direction?

My move from Michigan to New York City coincided with my transition from performing as one half of a duo act to pursuing a solo career, so the move has really been almost a complete redirection. I’ve had to learn to become comfortable with being completely alone on stage and performing my songs in a way that I feel they can stand all on their own, along with writing new material while bearing in mind that it will need to be able to do the same. So far it’s been equal parts liberating and terrifying. It feels wonderfully gratifying to be entirely responsible for my own act, and the transition has definitely caused me to grow as an artist and as a performer quickly to fill in the gap left behind after having become accustomed to having a partner to “share the load,” if you will. I believe, because of my move and because of the caliber of artists that saturate the communities I’ve become acquainted with, I’ve been driven to grow that much faster. I’m learning a lot from the musicians around me, especially in the realm of managing the business side of things. I’m not sure if I would’ve received the same amount of guidance from local musicians if I’d stuck around Michigan, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to relocate to the East Coast and have the experiences I’m having now.


4. My only criticism of Do You Have A Car is that it's too short, I want to hear more.  When can we expect more songs from you?  Can you give us an idea of how the new songs or production might be different?  Conversely, do you foresee any connecting links between Do You Have A Car and your next release?

    Thank you, Oz; that is very kind. I have a considerable amount of new material which I’ve been regularly taking out for a spin at live shows. There’s been a shift in my songwriting concerning subject matter; I went through a phase of focusing almost entirely on writing fictional/metaphorical story-songs. Lately, my writing has shifted into a first-person, more cathartic or emotionally analytical mindframe. As far as recording, I’m aiming to get back into the studio to record my first full-length album this September. The arrangements on Do You Have A Car were extremely minimal and sparse; I plan to work with a band (drums/electric bass/guitar) for my full-length. DYHAC is definitely reverb-heavy and I would like to experiment with different approaches in that regard; I don’t plan on reverb playing a key role in my sound, though I suppose I won’t know for sure until I get there. As far as links between DYHAC and my full-length: while as much as I’d love to go hog-wild with a band, I want to be sure to maintain a sense of intimacy and feature songs recorded as simply and honestly as those on DYHAC. Two of the tracks on DYHAC I was able to record completely live (playing and singing simultaneously), and that’s something I’d like to put into practice as much as physically possible while recording my album.

A further description and additional reviews of DYHAC is here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

By the Book: Folklore by Jack and the Bear

Pulling inspiration for sound from a lucid nightmare also proved to be one of the biggest contributors to the aesthetic of this record. I realize I will always hear the songs a little differently in the sense that I am revisiting once subconscious thought now translated through sound. 
                                                                                                    - Adam Schreiber 

By the Book: Folklore by Jack and the Bear revives the fine art of musical theater to great dramatic effect. - as great and as effective as an ancient Greek tragedy or a David Lynch film.  A vision presented of a dark dystopia in a not so distant industrial future.  The story is set in 2076 with the events leading up to it appearing eerily prescient to one potential future in our (so-called) real world considering that President Trump quite possibly looms on the horizon. (Just today I spoke to an intelligent educated older California lady trumpeting Trump - scary!!) This is a concept album, a concept that directly confronts the ills of Corporate State sanctioned modern civilization, brainwashing and Control; programming the robots. The whole story behind the album is told in great detail here where you can also stream the album.

This excerpt from the Prologue rings a little to close to home for my comfort, but perhaps that's the point of this darkly evocative Music Theater - to serve as an Early Warning System: Humans of Planet Earth get Your Shit Together And Start Treating Each Other Right.  Systems of Industrial Control proceed to a Dead End.  The dangers of complacently clinging to outdated tradition out of fear for change. I know it sounds an awful lot like the Republican Party yet the message seems to go far beyond a strictly political interpretation.  The horror of the situation can be felt in the music.

Not long after the turn of the millennium, a self-inflicted apocalypse of sorts takes place due to human activity, tradition and corporate gluttony. Corrupted political rule led to World War III; nukes were launched, governments were demolished, traditional (by the book) economics were failing more than ever before, but that didn't stop people from practicing tradition, after all, it's what they were taught.
After roughly twenty years of warfare, a select group of "self-elected, self-praising, privileged business enthusiasts took it upon themselves to plot and start a new civilization.

  


Jack and the Bear describe this music as Industrial Folk with a "Dark Disney" vibe to it.  They say it's inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales, Aesop's Fables, musical theater, and the industrial landscape they found in their immediate environment.  I would describe it as resonant with a particular style of Music Theater - Bertolt Brecht as filtered through the sonic and storytelling sensibilities of Tom Waits ... and then some.  The visual imagery is so strong that I pick-up more cinema references than I do musical ones.  The music is like a really, really good film soundtrack.  Not only should this receive a fully staged theatrical production, preferably before the next election (in my dreams), but someone could quite easily make a provocative and compelling film based on this dramatic music.  The opening song, Greed's Theme Part 1, makes me think of the 99% vs 1% sloganeering of Bernie Saunders and the Occupy Movement.  The music has the atmosphere of an ominous Orwellian march of workers bound to industrial slavery as shown in the 1984 commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh computer.  Other films that come to mind include Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Terry Gilliam's Brazil and the film version of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Here's one video interpretation, a tragic love song called Smokestacks that might be a play on words as Smoke is also the name of a female character in this saga:



This sound of this production is spacious with vast rooms of depth to get immersed into.  It makes for easy induction into their self-described lucid nightmare.  Maybe they should call upon Tim Burton to direct the By the Book film? The sonic environment is always interesting especially with the connecting link of industrial machinery stomping, clanking, and letting off sharp whistling blasts of steam in the background.  

Jack and the Bear

The process of how this Art came into existence is fascinating.  I asked one of the writers in Jack, Brandon James, about this:

We began writing the first few songs in North Carolina (while visiting family), and ended up with about 10 - 15 brand new song ideas within about a week (this is unusual for me, as I normally take about a month per song idea before I find any desire of possible revealing it to the world.) After returning home, I found myself in the best writing state I've ever experienced. To make a long story short, I wrote close to fifty songs within the span of a month and a half. Adam and I whittled it down to the best twenty tracks, as we began to brainstorm a story. How it became a futuristic warning on industrial greed, I'm not really sure how to explain in a concise manner. But I will say Adam and I became very aware of our industrial surroundings, living south of downriver, across from a looming pair of smokestacks kind of shaped my mind to create the futuristic industrial folklore story we ended up with. Having our recording setup right next I-75, what would usually be a nuisance, ended up really working to our advantage, because if any industrial sounding noise found its way into our recordings, we found it only assisted with bringing our story to life more and more

As complex as the album’s sound turned out to be, I felt more at ease, or rather a more “natural” experience while writing the story/lyrics. Dealing with many different forms of corruption, each song deals with its own corporate woe - “Don’t Look Down” for example deals with the disenchanting world of factory farming. Being “quiet” vegetarians for a little of a year now, I based the lyrics off a dream of Adam’s that was so vivid, it actually turned him away from eating meat in the first place. The song really came together with the company of Chloe Feoranzo (mostly noted for her work with Pokey Lafarge) – I remember sending her “All the World is Green” by Tom Waits as a reference.  

I asked producer/engineer Adam Schreiber if their environment played any part in the sound:

Yes, I would say the house where the rehearsals, tracking, mixing and mastering took place had a very large influence on the sound of the record. We couldn’t seem to do a take in this house without getting some type of industrial ambiance bleed over or wind or crows in the microphones. We ended up making our own factory inspired sounds to help emphasize and embrace our surroundings. For example, I ended up flipping over a 1920’s Leedy bass drum on its side and patched it to an LA-610 to a Pro Co Rat pedal to a short verb chamber to a UAD Rev A 1176 fixed at a high ratio to achieve the pulsing “Machine” sounds. 

I asked Adam about his vocal processing. The narrator goes through a variety of characters and situations each with a distinctive sound. He was quite candid:

 It was a lot of subtle gain staging of harmonic distortion from multiple units that all added up to create the final sound. Most of the more unconventional vocal sounds were achieved with a 3 microphone set up, a stereo room pair of 1970’s SM81’s running through the UAD Neve 1073 modules just on the verge of break up placed in a hallway plus either an Sm7b or Neumann TLM-49 as the primary vocal mic running through a 610 pre in a high gain stage, all lightly hitting the UAD ATR-102. For any further exaggeration, I would re-amp the vocals through a toilet bowl “Reflection chamber” with a pa speaker and a vintage EV RE16 patched into Sansamp and parallel processed the signals to taste. There were also a few instances where I re-amped or even doubled the vocal outside, recording the signal with my Zoom h6 to capture from different perspectives at multiple locations. For Example, the intro of “From Below” was recorded at a bird sanctuary in Danville, KY and “A Man Lost” bridge double was recorded at a very reflective swamp in Awendaw, SC with a Mid-Side binaural capsule.

Brandon told me what they learned making this album:

I think as a band, we finally learned the proper way to make an album (as far as doing everything ourselves) – As a writer, I found my niche with basing everything off a strong concept I feel connected with. Aside from writing, I also experimented with playing a lot of instruments outside of my comfort zone such as accordion, melodica, tenor saxophone and upright bass as well as arranging choir parts. 

 The other musicians in Jack and the Bear, Christina Nielsen and Evan Close contributed their own parts. The guest musicians in what came to be known as the Industrial Ensemble were also encouraged to improvise their parts. They get credited on Jack's bandcamp page linked to above.

I recorded their first album and wrote about it here.

Facebook Page with booking and press contact info; and their website.