Neutral Milk Hotel two albums surely cast a long shadow on all involved. Multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster has never shied away from his role in the band — both reuniting with the group and supporting frontman Jeff Mangum in recent years — but all the while the musician has been building a singular body of work all his own, both as a solo artist and through his on-going project, the Music Tapes.For anyone who’s seen the latter in a live setting, it’s clear that Koster is, above all, a storyteller. The band act features a seven-foot-tall metronome and a talking tube television. It’s a living circus built around strange tales and Koster’s songs — very much a product of the Elephant 6 Collective from which it sprung, while remaining uniquely his own. When it was first announced that Koster was working on a podcast with the team behind Welcome to Nightvale, it was clearly serendipity. Three episodes in, podcasting has proven the perfect medium for the musician’s world building, manifesting itself as a sort of classic radio drama beamed from the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s idiosyncratic and fascinating, a perfect encapsulation of what Koster does best. And yes, he wore the hat.
Bobby Rush is a storyteller. At 83, he’s no doubt told many of his best ones hundreds if not thousands of times, but as the consummate perform, he spins each one as it were the first time – even something as old and simple as the tale of how the son of a pastor became one of the foremost bluesmen of his generation. And while the musician has never taken himself too seriously, from his 1971 gold record, “Chicken Heads" (“I love that gal / I love them chicken heads too”) to this year’s Porcupine Meat (“Too fat to eat / Too lean to throw away.”) – but these past few years have given the musician opportunity to reflect on the importance of the blues and his role in the genre. Last year, his friend B.B. King passed on, and passed the torch in the process, playing some of his final shows with Rush and bestowing upon the musician the ‘B.B. King Entertainer of the Year’ award. And Rush is keenly aware of his place as the one of the last of a breed, still playing performing out with the energy of a man a third his age. On a stop over in New York, Rush sat down to discuss his six decade long career, the importance of the blues and, of course, how he got a song called “Chicken Heads” on the radio in 1971.
Vivien Goldman’s New York City apartment is a shrine to decades of music journalism, bookshelves overflowing with seemingly every title ever published on the subject. This particular evening, former Chantage bandmate Eve Blouin is over for a visit, discussing their days in Paris and the myriad ways in which even Queens has become virtually unlivable for artists. The two still perform music when they get together from time to time, but Goldman spends most of her time these days writing about and teaching music history. The fact that we were able to get together when we were was something of a minor miracle, as she was devoting most of her time to piecing together a syllabus for incoming NYU freshman for her gig as the school’s adjunct professor of punk and reggae. All the while, Goldman has been enjoying a new round of interest in her wonderful, if sporadic music career, courtesy of Resolutionary, a new collection of her singles recorded between 1979 and 1982.
I must have been 12 or so when I first saw the Pansy Division. The
band was opening for Green Day at a benefit show in Oakland, a return to
the Bay Area following the triumphant Dookie tour. I had no idea what
to make of the band at the time — and my dad, who’d kindly agreed to
chaperone, was, I believe amused. He may or may not have said, “don’t
tell your mother about this.” But that was always the Pansy
Division’s MO — in your face sexuality backed by songwriting that rarely
took itself seriously. The band no doubt blew the minds of young teens
all across the country as the opening act for the soon to be biggest
rock band in the world, and it appeared to have a hell of a time doing
it. This year marks the group’s quarter-century anniversary, a
milestone it celebrated with Quite Contrary, its first album in seven
years, which is both celebratory and reflective, featuring a cover shot
in the same room that graced the band’s seminal 1996 album Wish I'd
Taken Pictures, starring the same two cover models. Frontman Jon
Ginoli already did a thorough job reflecting on the band and its
influence in his wonderful 2009 memoir, Deflowered: My Life in Pansy
Division, but a twenty-fifth anniversary offers yet another opportunity
to recognize how far he, his band and the world around them have come in
the last few decades. We sat down at a cafe in Manhattan following a recent appearance in the city to discuss the band, its music and mission.
Of all of the bizarre sights at this year’s New York Comic Con, you’d be hard pressed to find one more serendipitous than the droves of show goers milling around IDW booth in bright orange cardboard Donald Trump masks – including, in one moment of heightened verisimilitude, a Darth Vader sporting the face of the Republican nominee. The masks were being handed out to promoting Tom Tomorrow’s latest offering, Crazy is the New Normal, a paperback collection of the political cartoonist’s work from 2014 to 2016. The neon orange, Hulk-inspired rage monster is really the perfect distillation of Tomorrow’s strip, This Modern World, a cross section of biting political satire and hilarious comic book premises. The strip in a rare bright spot in the often anemic world of political cartooning, running weekly since the late 80s in alt-weeklies across the country and left leaning magazines like the Nation. These last couple of years have seen the cartoonist’s profile continue to grow, in the face of shuttering print publications, including a spot on the list of Pulitzer finalists, a crowdfunded career retrospect and the beginnings of an animated series based on his long-running strip.
Sometimes you finish an interview not quite sure how things went.
Other times you just know. With Sarah Assbring, it was pretty clear from
the first seconds, when she belted out a song when asked to do a
soundcheck. With all she’s been through in her life, the driving force
behind El Perro Del Mar clearly sees no point in holding back. Assbring’s
new record KoKoro, which dropped last week, is the sound of an artist
bursting at the seams with creative inspiration. As she notes during the
interview, she rented out a music room in a children’s museum to
experiment with international instruments in an attempt to capture her
feelings about a world in turmoil following the birth of her son. But
music didn’t always come easily. During this conversation recorded
prior to an intimate performance in New York City, we discuss battles
with depression and the slog of existential thought that have gripped
her life and stifled the process at various points. It’s one of
the most candid and frank conversations with had in this show’s nearly
200 episode history and a fascinating insight into a singularly creative
In 2008, Dash Shaw arrived seemingly out of nowhere and the indie
comics community feel in love almost immediately. His Fantagraphics
debut, the 720 page opus Bottomless Belly Belly Button, was a wide
ranging, following the lives of a family over the course of three
generation, which landed the young artist on numerous book of the year
lists. Since then Shaw has regularly bounced back and forth
between comics and animation, maintaining a singular vision with one
ambitious project after another. This fall, the artist marks two major
releases, a college of his book Cosplayers and the animated film, My
Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. The film, which premiers
at the New York Film Festivals this months, features an impressive voice
cast, including Jason Schwartzman (as Shaw), Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts,
Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon. Shaw joined me at a Manhattan
tea house on a recent visit to the city to discuss his work,
collaboration and moving from New York to an artist commune.
I’d known Alex Segura for a few years, before I found out about his not so secret passion. We’d work together in the comics world, we as a journalist and him as a PR rep, first for DC and then for Archie. We were drinking together at some comics after party, when he casually mentioned that he was about to head down to Florida for a crime writers convention – and not just as a casual observer. This year Segura released his second novel, Down the Darkest Street, the second installment of his Pete Fernandez Mystery series set in his hometown of Miami. In this casual chat at a coffee shop in Astoria, Segura takes me through the world of mystery writing of which I know very little, while discussing side passions as his continued work as a writing on various comics titles, like the newly released Archie meets the Ramones.
I was excited when I first saw Pepe popping up on strange corners of
the internet. After years of spotting Matt Furie’s work at indie comics
shows like SPX and MoCCA, the online community was starting to take
notice of his work, albeit in that idiosyncratic internetty way. But
after years of bizarre and benign appearances on body building forums
and Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed, the stoned frog character seemingly,
suddenly took a strange turn, embraced by some of the internet’s darkest
recesses. Over the past several weeks, Pepe was reference by
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, highlighted on the Rachel Maddow
Show and, as of yesterday, designated as a symbol of hate by the
Anti-Defamation League. Suddenly, the artist’s phone start
ringing off the hook with dozens of calls from journalists asking Furie
to defend his benign cartoon creation. Sure most artists would kill for a
moment in the national spotlight, but practically overnight the
cartoonist was in the incredibly unenviable position of having his name
and creation linked with online hate groups. Furie kindly jumped
on the phone for a quick chat while driving from his home in Los Angeles
to an art showing in San Francisco. We talked about his unexpected and
unfortunate fame, the power of simple symbols and his on-going efforts
to steal Pepe back for the forces of good.
This one took a while to get out, unfortunately. Long story, but it dates back April, around the release of Faith Erin Hicks’ most recent book, The Nameless City. Thankfully, the new title is just the tip of the iceberg for the Canadian cartoonist, as the first of a three-book series for First Second, a period piece exploring an unlikely friendship set against the backdrop of an ancient city inspired by Central Asian architecture. It marks something of a departure for an artist whose work more often deals with a school setting, though Hicks has proven to be both diverse and prolific in the eight or nine years since she officially hit the comics scene with the undead adventure, Zombies Calling. Hicks currently has nearly a dozen works under her belt, as either a collaborator are sole creator, with topics ranging from Bigfoot to Buffy to the 2013 Dark Horse title, The Last of Us: American Dreams, a four issue miniseries inspired by the video game of the same name.The next book in The Nameless City trilogy has already been announced for next year, along with an upcoming collaboration with kids author, Rainbow Rowell.