Canine 10 – Nonsense!

Philadelphia based punky power pop band Canine 10 released Nonsense! last April. There is little reason to jump around happily this year but on Nonsense! you will find 12.

SweetSweetMusicblog spoke to Dale Ensane.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

First of all, we’re not positive we ARE on to something, but it was when we put our current lineup together & recorded the “Truth is Wrong” EP.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

It seems that some people maybe don’t realize that our songs are actually HILARIOUS!

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

I don’t think I really care… unless the subject happens to be in the room… then, I claim one of the others wrote it.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

Well, most of the time, they’re really fun, but it seems the couple of bad ones are what we always talk about because they wind up just being weird experiences. -like a promoter who is a weird jerk or the time, the entire (small) audience left & we played to just the sound guy. :-(.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

The fun in recording is when you’re done & you get to show Mrs. horrible the final product.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

It’s been a while…. can’t remember

Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million seller?

At this point, we’d simply buy 999,935 copies ourselves!

Nick Frater – Fast & Loose (Q&A)

FAST & LOOSE will be releases on September 19, on Big Stir Records.

Apropos to its title, it’s a full throttle collection brimming with the hooks, harmonies and sophisticated arrangements his fans have come to expect, and bubbling with a freshness and energy that’ll captivate new listeners immediately as one of the UK’s best-kept secrets steps onto a wider international stage.

You released a lot of new music in the last couple of months/years. Inspiration keeps on coming?

There’s been quite a bit a material out lately, and plenty more still to come! I’m blessed/cursed with more ideas than time to realize them! 

Fast & Loose is my fifth ‘proper’ album and my first with Big Stir Records. Alongside this are several side projects, and music I produce/create with other bands too.

I guess I benefit from being fairly self-sufficient with writing, performing, recording, mixing, etc myself – but the real thrill is that moment when you catch the first glimpse of a hook or melody, and then it grows into a song. Perhaps by having written quite a few things over the last couple of years, I feel more relaxed about writing than I did when pulling together my first album. Not every song has to be God Only Knows, indulging in the occasional Wild Honey Pie can be good for the soul.

How did Fast & Loose come together?

It came together quite literally fast & loose! Last summer I became a dad for the first time, and in the weeks running up to the birth, several songs emerged. It was in the weeks after my daughter was born though that the bulk was written and recorded. Maybe it was the endless sleepless nights, the hormones, who knows…but it was, and remains a very creative time in my head!

It has also triggered a huge and I think positive change in my writing technique. In the olden days (pre lockdown, pre-baby) I would spend hours and days tinkering with ideas at the piano. Instead, that time is spent being a dad. Which seems to involve a lot of bouncing and rocking a baby to sleep; but also loads and loads of singing. The majority of this album started from a vocal melodic idea and worked out top-down, rather than from a fiendishly elaborate piano part as before. 

You are part of the Big Stir family now. What will the biggest change be?

I’m not usually someone to think about fate, but it seems very fortuitous that LA’s favorite record label started to put on events in my favorite pub in Croydon.

A few years back I caught their first Big Stir Britannia shows, about five minutes from my house, and now have a record out with them, as well as write in their zine, and do some mastering for the digital singles CDs!

Alongside the music I put out, for many years I’ve been recording and producing many bands here in London. This has always been a labor of love, and getting the records made that I think need to be made. This is very similar to the ethos at Big Stir and I’m sure lovers of adventurous pop music will enjoy whatever the future holds!

There are some fantastic records out on Big Stir this year – the Spygenius double vinyl is a particular favorite of mine!

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

There’s only one correct way to listen to records, and that is with the listener’s head in an equilateral triangle with the speakers. That said, a large chunk of this album was mixed on headphones in the Barbican library while on my lunch break!

The things my ears are drawn to in the music are some tasty chords ’That Ship Has Sailed’ in particular has my favorite harmony on this album. On a technical level, much of this record draws its harmonic tension from resolving augmenting fourth, within the context of a major chord. It seems to have wormed its way into lots of songs I write lately! However, I hope that listeners feel the energy and enjoyment I felt when making it. There are some sad songs on this too, but making them is always cathartic, a bit like the blues. 

2020, what a year?

Indeed! I hope readers have found a way to keep on keeping on. We’re a long way off this thing being over, and inevitably we all have ups and downs, and the lockdown has brought out the best and worst in human behavior. We all know what is going well and what isn’t, so instead of saying how terrible <insert whoever> and their government has been, maybe it’s more useful to look to real leadership; Bill and Ted summed it up best with “be excellent to each other”. So yes, let’s try and be excellent, and wash our hands.

The Brother Kite – Make It Real (Q&A)

‘Make It Real’ is overwhelmingly good. Nine songs that you could immediately categorize as Alternative Rock after a single listen, but if you listen carefully you will hear beautiful pop melodies, jangly guitars and sparkling harmony vocals.

This is a candidate for the best record of 2020.

Sweet Sweet Music Blog in conversation with the members of The Brother Kite.

What was the moment you knew you were onto something?

Patrick Boutwell, vocals/guitar: It’s hard to think of a definitive moment that I thought “you need to keep going”, but it was most certainly in late 1999/early 2000; I’d written several songs before then, but around that time my writing had begun to change and find a little bit of focus, and I enjoyed it more than other stuff that was around, so I kept my head down and plowed through songs as best I could until it was obvious that they needed to be played by a band.

Jon Downs, vocals/guitar: It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I felt like we were onto something immediately. Pat sent me a cassette of demo songs with “brother kite” written on it, and it was obvious to me that if we formed a band, it would be good.

How did this record come together?

Patrick: We’d been working on this album on and off for years. Momentum is a tough thing to keep up when you have kids, so it had a lot of stops and starts.

Mark Howard, guitar/vocals/keyboards: We chipped away at recording the songs a little at a time, and then at the beginning of the quarantine, when it seemed like we had an almost-completed record on our hands and not much else to do with ourselves, we decided to finish it up and put it together. Turns out we had a pretty cohesive batch of songs!

Matt Rozzero, drums and percussion: It came together differently in that it wasn’t a big concept from the get-go… it was almost a compilation that works really well together.

Jon: When the pandemic hit, we decided to just release what we had. It wasn’t particularly well thought out…it was just clear that these songs needed to be released because if they sat around much longer, we might lose them.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

Patrick: We have a tendency to be a little tight with letting people hear things before they are finished. It is pretty rare for even close friends to hear what we’re up to unless they are in the room with us while we are working, so I guess the answer is when we knew it was done and going to be released.

Crawling Back To Me sounds like the hit Robert Pollard forgot to write. Would you take that as a compliment?

Jon: Of course. I love Robert Pollard. I’d love to hear him cover it. Bob?

Andrea Downs, Bass guitar: I think that’s an association we’d all be happy with!

Patrick: It is a compliment, though one to be taken with a grain of salt when you know that “Glad Girls” exists.

Matt: The best compliment! See photo of Pollard stack hahaha. One of my heroes.

You can’t control the way people “hear” your music, but if you could make them aware of certain aspects that you think sets them apart, what would they be?

Matt: Pat’s way with melody will always set us apart. I feel like he’s more linear than modular and not a lot of writers construct that way.

Patrick: Hmmm… well, one thing that is an interesting tidbit is probably the extent of the DIY-ness of what we do. Jon does 98% of the engineering, and he also made nearly all of the microphone preamps we use himself, while he, Mark, and I like to make guitar effects pedals (and, in my case, guitar amplifiers). Pretty much all of “Don’t Ask Why” was played through amps I built, and it makes me happy to be able to point that out. It is gone now, but years ago, pre-Waiting For The Time To Be Right, we (with endless help and support from Bill Downs, Jon’s dad) built a studio in New Hampshire to be able to have as proper a space we could make to record our own music. We recorded all of WFTTTBR and Isolation there, and Jon recorded a few other bands there, as well.

How did you stay sane in the last couple of months?

Andrea: Working as a Nurse in an ER during this pandemic has been one of the most stressful times in my life, so relaxing at home on my days off has been vital. I’ve been doing a lot of normal stuff like swimming and LEGO building with our 4-year-old. And so much sewing!

Mark: A lot of running, a lot of movies, and a lot of records.

Patrick: As dumb as it sounds, focusing on my diet and lifting weights has kept me from going totally off the rails. The pandemic has certainly thrown me a few times. I take changes in routine kind of hard; it takes me a long time to settle into new general life rhythms, and it has changed so much over the last 6 months that it has been really difficult at times. That said, given that I had some terrible mental health issues in the years leading up to the release of the record, I’m doing okay.

Jon: Oh, I have no shortage of hobbies. And like many out there, I no longer have a job. So no stress there. My mental game is tight.

Matt: Listening to music and Utz Crab Chips.

WarwickOnline writes: “For over 15 years, The Brother Kite have been an alternative rock staple in Providence’s music scene. The songwriting partnership between guitarists and co-vocalists Patrick Boutwell and Jon Downs has produced fantastic music over the span of five LPs and three EPs.

They haven’t been alone in this artistic endeavor, with Down’s wife Andrea on bass, Matt Rozzero on drums and Mark Howard on guitar, keys and percussion rounding out the lineup.

Their fifth and latest full-length release is “Make It Real,” which came out Aug. 14 via the band’s own label Light Fighter Records.”.

Yeah Is What We Have – through the window (Q&A)

Sweet Sweet Music Blog spoke to Tom Werring about trying to write a cohesive record, thinking about the state of life and trying to be optimistic about the future.

It’s hard to believe ‘Through The Window’ is a debut record. How did it come together?

I too can’t believe it exists!  It came together through sheer force of will, to be honest.  I’ve wanted to write an LP for a long time, and I just kept trying to write some simple pop songs until I had enough that I thought were halfway decent.  I was having a big moment of inspiration getting really into pop music, and tried to channel a certain sound and make it my own.  I’m also really fortunate to be friends with Billy Mannino, a super talented recording engineer and collaborator who let me work out ideas in his basement on weekends for a whole year.  But yeah, really just focused hard on trying to write a cohesive record, thinking a lot about the state of my life and trying to be optimistic about the future.

I almost ‘find out about new pop music’ for a living :-). But I only found out about your record recently. Is it hard to get your music heard?  On the other hand, you have a lot more streams on Spotify than ‘related’ bands so I probably have been looking in the wrong direction.

Well grateful you heard it!  That’s definitely another thing where I’m fortunate to have friends that were willing to put the record out and even listen to my music at all.  My friend Jake is always so down to help me release my stuff, which I’m really very grateful for.  It’s definitely really hard to get music heard with Spotify playlists and all that and to be honest, I’m not really too concerned about having a bunch of people knows my music.  Really just want to use this project as an opportunity to stay creative, keep busy, and stay sane.  Hard to come by these days.  

When you first heard the final version of ‘Loner Sky’ you must have recognized you created something special? Or did you already knew that earlier on?

Appreciate that perspective – I don’t know if I ever thought it was “special” per se.  My measurement of whether or not I think any of my songs are any good is if I would listen to it if I didn’t write it.  Striking a balance between emulating the bands I love and making something personal.  The only thing I ever thought was “special” was the way Billy can make my songs sound in the studio.  He’s a true wizard! 

What other artists do you consider as an inspiration? And why?

Definitely find a ton of inspiration at every moment.  Personally, I’m lucky to have so many friends who are insanely talented songwriters.  My best friend Jade from Oso Oso is probably the biggest source of songwriting inspiration having played music with him since I was 16.  My friends in bands like Macseal, Just Friends, and Prince Daddy and the Hyena are just constantly staying active and creative, and it keeps me energized to keep writing myself.  But on a non-personal level, bands like Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, and Fountains of Wayne were experts at writing solid pop songs and I’m always getting inspiration from them.  Recently really loving HAIM as well. 

How did you ‘stay sane’ the last couple of months?

Another thing I’m incredibly grateful to have right now is a job that lets me work from home, so have just been so distracted with work that it keeps me busy.  My wonderful girlfriend also keeps me sane, and we just adopted our dog Benny who is a perfect angel that I love dearly.  All solid distractions from the catastrophic failure that is the US government, so I’ve been trying to use that privilege to stay engaged with my community, support my neighbors, and volunteer and donate where I can.  

Ex Norwegian – Hue Spotting/Spotting Hues (Q&A)

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Roger Houdaille  about releasing 2 new records, structured psychedelia, hour-long live streams, and the upcoming tour.

And, YES, he covers Gruppo Sportivo‘s ‘Happily Unemployed’!

Nowadays mainly singles and EPs are released. You come up with 2 new records?

Funny you mention that…there’s a non-LP 7” single coming out in a couple of months! I love all formats, and indeed this year we released a lot of singles up until the release of the album.

What’s the story? How did the records come together?

It started as one record, honestly. But as I was working on Hue Spotting, I was recording lots of covers and for a time they were being released once a week as singles as I mentioned. I had plenty of pop-psych tunes that matched the direction I went with the new album, Hue Spotting. As a last-minute decision, I decided to create Spotting Hues as a companion covers album to the main disc. Around last summer, the other Ex Norwegian mainstay Michelle Grand said she wasn’t interested in working together on the upcoming album so that gave me a little more freedom to do something a little different and more psychedelic than usual. That’s my favorite genre, structured psychedelia, so I had a lot of fun putting it together. It took the longest of any Ex Norwegian record I think. Also, because of the uncertainty of who was going to be on the album at first. It ended up just being me and my old high school friend Fernando Perdomo jamming out the songs, separately in our respected home studios.

You have been very active on social media in the last couple of months. Easy?

I hope I make it look easy! But, no, for me it’s rather difficult. I’m not naturally a social media person, so it’s a bit of a task heavy endeavor in the sense that I need to pre-plan and schedule even the most basic of posts. And it doesn’t help that I set unrealistic content goals, like hour-long live streams every week of songs I’ve never performed before!

It’s so hard to predict the future but what are your goals for the rest of the year?

Yes indeed it is very difficult to plan certain things right now although there’s still lots to do or that can be done. I’ve been playing a lot of catch up, organizing and improving the business side of things as well as finishing up some ideas and projects I’ve had. One of which includes attempting something never done before – an Ex Norwegian record with guest artists on each track! As I alluded to earlier, a single “And I, Lover” will come out around October. Also in the works is a mega box set of the first 10 years of Ex Norwegian. This would be for release sometime 2021. And a proper follow-up album to Hue Spotting will probably come out sometime 2021 too. Also pending for next year is resuming our European tour! So, I look at the rest of the year as prepping time to ensure next year goes smoothly.


PowerPopNews says: ‘Librarians With Hickeys combine keen pop sensibilities with lots of sparkle and jangle to create a guitar pop lover’s dream. You’ll hear glimpses of The Byrds, REM and maybe even Velvet Crush in their sound. I bet Mitch Easter would have loved to produce these guys.’.

Sweet Sweet Music Blog spoke to Mike Crooker (guitar, vocals) about songs that dropped out of the sky, Big Stir Records, Lisa Mychols’ backing vocals and sleigh bells.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Mike: Immediately after the first song we wrote together “And Then She’s Gone” which was then confirmed by the second song we wrote “Until There Was You” (which became our first single). Both songs seemed like they dropped out of the sky with no difficulty. Having done this for a while I recognized that doesn’t happen very often and when it does, you’d better be prepared to run with it!

How did this record come together?

Mike: Christina and Rex from Big Stir Records asked us around November of 2019 if we wanted to put out an album and we couldn’t say YES fast enough! We already had the two singles (as above, and “Black Velvet Dress” b/w “Alex” also on Big Stir Records) finished, and we would spend time between shows recording in the gaps. We had most of the material recorded with the exception of some overdubs by the time of our last show in February when the lockdown hit. So, I had the time to really focus on the mixing (which wasn’t easy in the first couple of months), and it ultimately made for a better album. Though I wouldn’t recommend it as a motivational tool. 😉

Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million seller?

Mike: I try not to think in those terms – a million seller seems like an alien concept. Even a million streams (which would earn us very little) seems beyond the pale. Could we? It’s possible, but unlikely. 

Now, two million? Maybe. 😉

Band photo: Grace Carmen

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Mike: Well, to be honest I don’t know if that’s ever happened! When I finished the demo for the new single “That Time Is Now” there was an inkling that with the right vocals & lyrics it could do some business – and Ray nailed both. Then, adding Lisa Mychols backing vocals was the proverbial “icing on the cake” The response has been great!

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Mike: In some ways, yes – the gear and technology that used to fill my studio has been reduced to a computer, an interface, a couple of good mics and amps. We did the whole record in my living room, so the recording was easier without looking at the clock. 

Getting it heard has also taken on a sea-change moving from broadcast to streaming. So in one way, there’s a ton of niche podcasts that fit whatever style of music you make, plus Spotify, SoundCloud, etc. The flip side of that is with the homogenization of the broadcast market in the US, the barrier to entry is even higher. But music wants to be heard, and it will always find a way. 

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Mike: I’d say listen with headphones on, there’s layers to the tracks that you might not pick up on the first time, maybe by the sixth or seventh spin you’d start to hear the little guitar harmony parts, the pizzicato strings, the harpsichord, or the hand percussion and sleigh bells, or the layered backing vocals. There’s a lot going on in a 3:15 minute song! 😉

Ultimate Fakebook – The Preserving Machine (Q&A)

Ultimate Fakebook is back. 16 years since their last studio release, the band released their latest LP, The Preserving Machine, with new label Sonic Ritual Recordings on April 10, 2020.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Bill McShane and Eric Melin.

Bill McShane

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

There was this day where we had a long work lunch that involved a few glasses of wine. When I got back I picked up my guitar and wrote the main riffs and hooks to “Manhattan KS”, “After Hours at Melin’s”, “Fake ID”, and “This Unfrozen Girl” all in one sitting. The hooks and lyrics just flowed with no effort at all, and I realized right away … “oh, I think these are UFB songs” as opposed to some kind of solo project. Just getting myself into the mindset of writing for UFB opened the floodgates, and I ditched any idea of worrying about the songs not being any kind of new style or fit any current trend, in fact, I leaned hard into the kinds of melodies, tempos and drum fills that I knew were at the heart of what we did best. Just allowing myself to do that as a songwriter was surprisingly the key. Any time you bang out 3-4 songs with no effort, you know they are gonna be good ones. And right that afternoon, I knew the stuff that was bubbling to the surface was ready to come out, and I knew we could make a legit new record that wouldn’t be filler, or just “doing it just to do it”. As the songs kept coming throughout the demoing process, I felt more in the zone as a songwriter than I’d ever felt.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

The first time I sang the chorus to “Manhattan KS” to myself I felt immediately it was a hit (the kind of song we consider a hit anyway!)  Sometimes the simplest lyrics matched with the right chord progression just make magic.  And just sitting down and writing something quickly without overthinking it – that has always hands down been the recipe for a hit song in my book. You get to the heart of what you want to be feeling from the song – and don’t get hung up on the techniques or musician type things that hardly anyone notices anyway. It’s almost like if you just put your focus on the big picture of what you are saying and how you want it to make the listener feel – once you nail that basic vibe you can fill in all the details later.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Wow, awesome question. I would pick Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, I’d love the challenge of trying to push him back into the direction of the 1 minute super catchy pop masterpieces he started out doing (nothing against his later material but…it’s just something that would be amazing to me). Then John Farrar, who wrote almost all of Olivia Newton John’s big hits in the ’70s and ’80s. His melodies literally formed my musical brain – I’d love to try to come up with new epic pop hits with that level of melodic quality. And third I would pick Paul McCartney just to be in the room with him and see how his mind creates ideas. Who cares how good the songs would be, I just wanna see him in songwriting action!

Eric Melin

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

The art of big hooks and clever wordplay isn’t really something that everyone picks up on, and think that’s what Bill does in spades. His songs zing and zang all over the place and never fail to surprise. Our strategy is to mask all of that pop goodness with spirited, energetic, sometimes bombastic playing so it comes across as fun and hopefully addictive for the people who “get it”! For those people, they’ll hear all kinds of little details in the dynamics and production that were both strategically thought out and/or lucky accidents. I’ve had people come up at shows and say “I love the record, but you guys are better live.” I think they are reacting to the onstage energy and crowd interaction (remember those? 😫 ) and I wish I could point out all the cool production ideas that went into the multi-layers of each song, but sometimes you just want to rock out!

Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

KISS – Alive!
Big Star – #1 Record/Radio City (cheating I know – they are on the same CD)

Elliott Smith – XO

Cheap Trick – In Color

The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle

…although technically I’d just take my Big Star (Keep an Eye on the Sky), Cheap Trick (Sex, America, Cheap Trick), and Zombies (Zombie Heaven) box sets to make sure I had more tunes!

Ryan Allen – Song Snacks Vol. 1 (Q&A)

“Song Snacks Vol.1” is a collection of 20 2-minute and under songs, written in a flurry by Ryan Allen while living life on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Ryan about the new record, Bandcamp, how ‘less is more’, and more … .

I think I heard a zillion valid reasons why artists don’t release new music right now. You decided differently!?

Really? I feel like right now is the BEST time to release music. Sure, if you’re a huge band like Foo Fighters or Weezer and you were planning massive tours around records I guess I get it, but I feel like people really need music right now to survive through these insane times. At least I know I do. I’ve listened to a TON of music over the last 5 months, bought new records from bands on Bandcamp, and patched some holes in my record collection (mostly Guided by Voices stuff). People are stuck at home for the most part and are focusing their attention on things they may have forgotten about or not given as much time to when they’re caught up in the rat race of life. So yeah, I think now is the perfect time, if you have the means and motivation to do it. Thank god for Bandcamp and how easy they have made it to release records – especially with their Bandcamp Friday events that have been having. Such a cool idea and it’s really keeping the flame alive for a lot of active bands.

The whole writing, recording process must have been different though? Truth Surgery, for example, is quite different from the songs on the last couple of Extra Arms records. You took the opportunity to let creativity move in ‘all’ directions?

Yeah, I mean, I’m always writing songs. Some of them are just short little weird fragments that never get finished, others are fully fleshed out and demoed with me playing all the instruments. Given that I don’t foresee Extra Arms playing any shows or even being able to work on new music right now, I decided to focus my nervous, creative energy on a project that I thought I could execute on my own. So I took sort of an “anything goes” approach. If I had an idea, I completed it. Ideas just kept coming, and I kept riding the wave. Some are still more fragmented than others, but even the short acoustic songs feel important and meaningful to me. I basically just threw out the rule book on this one.

Not exactly sure why but I like the sudden ending of Here Comes The Rain a lot. Like most songs on the record, it would have been ‘easy’ to add an extra 2 minutes to that song but you didn’t?

I guess knowing that you are “done” with something is just a feeling that you get. Sure, I could have fleshed some of these songs out with extra parts, bridges, more vocals, blah blah blah, but whenever I felt like something illustrated a complete thought, I decided it was done. I feel like more people should take the “less is more” approach with music, and I get why they don’t. Recording on a computer basically creates a situation where the possibilities are endless, and you can just keep messing with stuff, adding stuff, forever. But I guess I have a short attention span, and I’m pretty much done with a song after 2 and a half minutes. It’s got to be really engaging for me to want to stay in it longer than that. My dad said something to me when I was a kid starting to play shows…he said “leave them wanting more.” That’s why I’m always keen on playing 8 or 9 song sets. Half an hour and you’re done. That way people don’t feel like it’s dragging, and if they dig it, they’ll come to see you again. The same goes for this record – it’s short, to the point, and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome (even though there are 20 songs). It’s like a really succinct mixtape that you hopefully want to listen to over and over.

Besides producing a new record, how did you survive the last couple of months?

Just trying to stay busy and positive. Listening to a ton of music, working on a bunch of different projects (I released an EP with another band called Soft Wires, made a hardcore record called Quaranteen Idles, released a few digital singles collaborating with friends, and am working on the next couple of Extra Arms releases right now), watching movies and TV, watching basketball, reading, working a ton, hanging out with my girlfriend and my son, skateboarding a lot, trying to get good at NBA2K. Just trying to live life while staying safe and listening to scientists and not puffy, illiterate presidents who don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. Ya know, the usual!

Nick Pipitone – “Thiensville”(Q&A)

“Thiensville” is an epic saga based on the partially and possibly sort of true and not so true stories of one middle aged man’s life in a quaint village in southeastern Wisconsin.

“Thiensville” will be released on CD soon. Keep an eye on the Kool Kat Musik webshop.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Nick Pipitone.

How did this record come together?

About 4 years ago I had an idea to write an album about my town, Thiensville. It probably occurred to me while listening to The Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” — an album about weird places and characters and things that happen in a small community. Originally, I wanted it to be stylistically like The Kinks but the way I write and the way I record I had to let that go and just be myself. I’m clearly not Ray Davies. So I started writing lyrics with more of a concept album approach — “Century Estates” for example is the name of my subdivision which was created in the 60s — it was probably considered luxurious living for the time, hence the line “It was top of the line in ’69.” All the songs are based on something in Thiensville; Skippy’s is a restaurant; “The Gathering” is a nod to a concert that happens every year in the local park called “Gathering on the Green.” “The Prime Minister” is a breakfast restaurant — I reimagined the Prime Minister as a real person who is in charge of making pancakes. That felt very Kinks to me. And there are personal songs about my life in Thiensville filling it out — life in the suburbs, owning a home, having a family — they are all important facets of the story too. On the CD there is a bonus track called “Rummage on Madero” which is a song about rummage sales and town gossip. The title came from a small homemade sign I saw on my street that literally just had those three words on it. I wanted to write about rummage sales because I’m not sure anyone has ever written about rummage sales. Maybe someday someone will discover my album and make “Thiensville — The Musical.” 

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

It’s fairly simple to get heard when you pass your album to a few friends — and it’s nice to know a guy like Ray Gianchetti at Kool Kat Records who believes in the music and gives it a larger audience. I don’t make music with the delusions that somehow it’s going to catch on magically and reach millions of people. It’s something I made that I’m happy with and that’s good enough for me. The process of making it is much harder, especially since it’s an undertaking I took on by myself. The entire album was played and recorded and mixed by me — which made it very difficult and time-consuming. So recording it was more difficult than getting it heard. It helps to have a little studio in your basement, which gives you the luxury to try things. You can be eating lunch and get an idea for a guitar part and can be recording it before you’ve digested your sandwich. I’m constantly trying things. Mixing was the hardest part. I had asked a friend to mix it for me and that just wasn’t meant to be. Then late last year I was writing some songs for a friend who does music licensing and that went really well. Looking over his shoulder and taking pointers from him helped me gain some confidence around mixing. Then I just went for it. You find yourself going from the computer, mixing it down, to another computer to listen to it, then your car, taking notes, then making adjustments, and repeating that process until you’re finished with it. You can lose your mind doing that, but it’s worth it. The album isn’t perfect, and I’m limited by what my computer can do. But I’m happy with the results. 

Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

The Grays – Ro Sham bo

The Honeydogs – 10,000 Years

Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway

Aimee Mann – Bachelor #2

The Beatles – Abbey Road

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

While I’m not sure any of these songs are “hits” — I do believe in the art of songwriting, in communicating an idea to an audience, in telling a story that people can relate to and sing along with. I think all my songs do that. I think there is definitely a “way” to write a song — and that “way” is embodied by the great songwriters of all time — Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lennon/McCartney, Bacharach, Carole King, Ray Davies, Elton John, etc. and then carried on by people like Mike Viola, Chris Collingwood & Adam Schlesinger, Difford & Tilbrook, Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, Father John Misty and a bunch of others. I think that’s your textbook if you want to write songs. I feel like there is a little bit of a songwriting crisis — you rarely hear a perfectly crafted pop song — a song that has a superior melodic structure that actually communicates a tangible message that has a universal appeal — like Coldplay’s “Fix You”  or Adele’s “Someone Like You” (which was co-written by Dan Wilson). I actually think Father John Misty’s song “Please Don’t Die” was on an old Dusty Springfield record in another life. It’s that good. And for a lot of songs you have to be able to strip away the trappings of modern production to get to the root of it. Consider when Fountains of Wayne recorded Britney Spears, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” — it magically stripped away the 90s dance production and showed that it’s actually a great song. 

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Elvis Costello – because he’s a legend and probably my greatest influence.

Mike Viola – because I just love his stylistic approach to making songs and it would be great to be a fly on the wall during that process. His song “The Sound of My Own Voice” is one of the greatest songs of my lifetime.

Fiona Apple – because I am just ridiculously fascinated by her music and would love to know her insane process. Her music is so honest — to get to that point would be incredible. I just have a ton of respect for her.

Meet Simone Berk

Kid Gulliver, Sugar Snow, and Whistlestop Rock have all released new music in recent months. Simone Berk explains how she is involved with all three bands.

Sugar Snow is my solo project, the first music I wrote, sang, and recorded. It is very personal, melancholy, and quiet. Quite the opposite of Kid Gulliver, which is loud, silly fun. Listening to Kid Gulliver should make you smile. Listening to Sugar Snow might make you cry.

WhistleStop rock is an entirely different project. I contacted some women I love who play in bands I love to play shows, and it evolved into a traveling tour, which was unfortunately cut very short by COVID-19. Another group message was the genesis of “Queen of the Drive-In”, reminiscing about summer nights at the drive-in. It is a nostalgic song co-written by me after a few drinks. I sent it to Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s because so many people told us it was very Go-Go’s, and she loved it. And she has excellent taste. 🙂

Everyone around me has survived the past few months by listening to music, watching movies, and reading books. How can it be that it is so difficult to earn money by making “art”?

It is a funny thing that without music, film, art, this quarantine would be unbearable. It seems that it’s hard to make a living being an artist because the people only want to pay those who have already succeeded. People are ok with a $20 movie or a high priced ticket for a big name concert, but for $15 you can see 4 great bands. And even then, there is little money for us. I’m thankful to have a captive audience right now!

Recording music. What’s all the fun about? Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

Playing shows- We put our everything into every show whether there is a crowd or just 4 people. When the stars align, you have a crowd, your friends there, you are playing well, singing well–nothing can beat it. Our last show before the pandemic was the best show we’d ever played, to an audience of around 250, and I’m so thankful we had the chance to stun a large crowd into submission.

Always proud to answer ‘I am a musician’ to the question ‘what are you doing?’?

I always say I’m a musician but I say I’m a mother first. Both are equally confusing to most people.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Put on your headphones. Music is a different world with your headphones on.